Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kaizen Focus

The focus of kaizen is not on the work we do, it is on all the things that get in the way of the work we do.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dantotsu - Best of the Best!

After a long, exciting and particular successful kaizen event at one of our plants, I returned to my home office to find a simple wooden plaque sitting on my desk with the words “Dantotsu” engraved on the front. On the back was a small post it note with a short message that read “Japanese word that means striving to be the “Best of the Best” – This is for you.”

After checking around the office, no one knows who left it on my desk and I still don’t know the reason behind this gift. It is possible this is a simple thank you gift. It is also possible there is no reason except someone found it on a 5S Sort and thought to drop it off on my desk.

I look to this plaque as not recognition of some past effort or a 5S activity rather as a vision for the future. A vision to strive to be the Best of the Best in all that we do. It’s a challenge to rise above the status quo and set the bar higher than just good enough.

Whatever the origin of this simple plaque, it sparks my imagination, ignites my curiosity and flames my passion for excellence. All the things I try to do for others along the lean journey. Things we should all do as lean leaders. This simple plaque serves as my mission to guide others better than I have in the past, increase my awareness and accelerate my efforts for excellence. In my mind, it is not a question of if I can do it but how I can do it best.

To become best of the best will require discipline, hard work, determination, self-examination, experimentation and persistence. Even if I fail in this quest to become the best of the best, I will certainly be far better than I am today and the path of continuous improvement is certainly no failure.

Friday, December 26, 2008


The path on the lean journey is not an easy one as many of us have already discovered. Not only do we do battle with the defenders of the status quo, we are challenged by those that do not understand lean thinking, and struggle with others who simple fear change. But the challenge that I find the most difficult is one that I should have the most control over, that is my own thinking and actions.

All of us experience these moments of doubt, discouragement and defeat. At these moments, we can simply give in to our urges to cut corners, temptations to take the easy way or simple just give up.

It is also at these defining moments that we can become more resolute in our vision. It is our moment to decide our course of action, not just at critical moments but in our daily struggle. It is our choice to make. Do we continue on our path or do we give in to our urges?

Urge to slow down or give up because we encounter a difficult barrier

Urge to be complacent with the status quo

Urge to give a half hearted efforts and not giving it our all

Urge to think of all the ways something can’t be done before we think of all the ways how it could be done

Urge to decide on a solution before we grasp the situation

Urge to provide an answer when a question is a better approach to teach

Urge to just do it ourselves taking away the chance for others to discover it themselves

Urge to focus on the results and not the process

Urge to disrespect others and not take the time to treat others with respect and compassion.

Urge to think negative

Urge to be arrogant in our thinking

Urge to hear ourselves talk and not listen, really listen to others

Urge to run forward without bringing others with us

Urge to think of ourselves before the needs of others

Urge to soften or hide problems

Urge to seek blame

May we all learn from our mistakes along the journey and be mindful of the barriers on the path of continuous improvement, especially the barriers in our own mind and by our own actions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year filled with hope and harmony.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finance Kaizen Success

We completed our finance kaizen event today with a greater appreciation and understanding of the problems our finance associates had to endure monthly in one of financial processes. Working as a focused team, we implemented a new standard work process that made this process just a little bit easier and better.

Final results for our efforts include new documented standard work, 8% productivity improvement, 33% leadtime improvement, elimination of 4 unnecessary reports, and the elimination of one major barrier that prevented seamless monthly reconciliation in this process.

In addition to these immediate improvements, our team found additional opportunities that will require some longer term efforts not discovered until we spent the time to grasp the situation and understand the problem. Our hypothesis, with our proposed improvements, is that our productivity can be improved 50%. Our kaizen team already has developed a solid plan to go after it.

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that a solution was thought up by one of our kaizen team members within the first 8 minutes of our data collection. We did log this idea into our “Parking lot” list to be revisited after we completed our data collection and analysis. This reflected our respect for the person with the idea and our wish not to lose any ideas during our kaizen process. As it turned out, this idea was used as part of our initial countermeasure.

However, if we had jumped right to this idea and skipped our detailed data collection and analysis steps, we would have arrived at only part of our countermeasure and missed entirely the deeper problem. With the deeper problem revealed, we have the opportunity for greater improvement.

More importantly, during this transactional kaizen event, we have helped develop the problem solving skills of several of our financial associates in our quest to improve the process to improve the people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finance Kaizen

This week we are working outside the traditional lean domain of manufacturing to apply the lean principles in our finance area on a small process improvement. Transactional work processes are different from manufacturing processes however the lean principles and problem solving approach remain constant.

After our initial kaizen training session, our team started talking solutions within 8 minutes of collecting data on the current state. Some human tendencies are hard to change. It took a little redirecting to get the team to focus only on understanding the current state before jumping to solutions. And it came as no surprise either that we learned many new aspects and details about our problem to consider before we think in terms of countermeasures.

Some of the discoveries so far include:
Incomplete information
Information is inconsistent in format
Information passes through several hands
We have to hunt and search for information
Information spends more time idle than actual processing time
Batch processes are firmly entrenched in the finance world

But probably the most enlightened discovery by our kaizen team is the fact this particular finance process should be thought of as non-valued added from our paying customer’s point of view.

Our lean journey in the corporate office has begun.

Toyota Culture

“Moving machines takes minutes, but changing the way people think and act takes many years. What we call culture is the way we automatically think and act every day.”

Pete Gritton, Vice President of HR, Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing of North America, as taken from Toyota Culture by Jeffrey Liker and Michael Hoseus

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are you a Floor Sweeper?

Why do we prefer to sweep the floor every day rather than find the source of the dirt?

Journey to Greatness

My personal lean journey began in July 1985 when a former Toyota Industrial Engineer from Japan visited my plant to teach us how to improve. At the time, the term lean manufacturing had yet to exist and we only talked in Industrial Engineering terms of methods improvements. I was just a 25 year-old Junior Industrial Engineer at a Hospital Bed Manufacturing company named Hill-Rom, just three years out of college and not much experience in the manufacturing world. Little did I know that this chance encounter with my first Japanese Sensei would forever change my thinking and alter my professional career before it really started.

I listened intently on the words of this Japanese Industrial Engineer through the help of an interpreter. He talked about strange words like muda, muri and mura. In the middle of his lesson, he showed us a banana and talked about the necessary evil of the banana skin. Why must we buy a banana based on weight with the skin still attached, he asked? We can’t eat the skin, it has no value. What strange thoughts on things I never thought twice about before.

After our brief lesson, he picked three of us to work with him on a special project to show our management what is possible. Our team consisted of our new Japanese Sensei, a tool technician, a setup operator and myself. Our mission if we choose to accept it, perform a complete die changeover in under 10 minutes.

Is he kidding? Our die change took every bit of 1 hour to complete. This is crazy and unsafe.

Without flinching, our firm but patient Sensei told us it could be done. He has done it many, many times before and he would show us. We just had to open our minds and try it.

So with a team not all sure if it was really possible, we began the first steps in our lean journey. Our Japanese Sensei quickly took his pen and made several drawings to help show us what he had in mind. We took measurements, modified the dies, simplified and standardized the attachments and eliminated adjustments. After several attempts, his pen came out and additional drawings were created. Before long we made major improvements in our changeover time.

Our Japanese Sensei seemed satisfied with new quick changeover time but told us to do it again, please. He continued saying we must always practice. So all we heard after that was, “do it again, please”, “do it again, please” and “do it again, please”. By now, we were certainly sick and tired of changing the dies but quickly saw that we were making greater improvements.

Now we were ready to show our management the results. Our die change process went from 1 hour to just over 4 minutes. It was amazing! We didn’t think it was possible yet here it is. We did it. WE actually did it.

In this experience, our Japanese Sensei made us feel that we did it ourselves and he just pointed the way. It was the greatest feeling in the world to me that day to accomplish what was thought to be the impossible. My world of possibility and improvement became endless.

As you may have guessed by now, my Japanese Lean Sensei was Shigeo Shingo. After the successful die change demonstration that day, he handed me his personal pen that he used to sketch out his drawings. It was a simple blue ball point pen with S. SHINGO stamped on it. He told me I was a good engineer and to teach others what I learned. To this day, I still have his pen and try to teach others as a Lean Sensei myself. To Shigeo Shingo, I am forever grateful. He opened my mind to the impossible which makes all the difference to go from good to great.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Missed Opportunity

During our kaizen event last week, I was walking up and down the assembly line, practicing my observation skills when I noticed a small hesitation in work by one of our hardware bar assemblers. It appears that he stopped for a couple of seconds to examine an end bar with decals and rub his thumb over one of the decals. No sooner did this catch my attention, when he jumped right back into his assembly groove and fastened the side bar to the casket.

By no means is this examination of parts completely foreign to our associates. After all, we do specify as part of everyone’s standard work to check the quality of our products throughout the process. Quality is number, don’t you know.

However, from my vantage point at about 20 feet away, I could clearly see what caught his eye. The label had a small scratch resulting in a small torn hole. A defect that would most certainly disappoint our customer and clearly not pass our quality standards.

At this point, my thoughts zoomed in on this single unit and my curiosity kicked into high gear. Would he stop the line to signal a problem? Where was our team leader? Would the unit be fixed on the spot or sent down the line? Would the defect be tagged? What was our lean thinking on the line and what behaviors will I see in response to this defect?

Well, I didn’t have to wait long for my answer with our short takt time. After completing the assembly, the associate rushed to the next unit in line. This casket with a small torn label kept moving down the paced assembly line. No andon lights flashing, no buzzers blaring, no quick support help running to our aid, no red tags, nothing. If you didn’t see it just happen, it was like it never happened. Not even a little tick mark on a data sheet to record the problem.

How utterly disappointing it was to see this happen from one perspective and extremely exciting from another perspective. Realizing we have this problem is our opportunity for improvement. It is a chance for us to learn and kaizen.

With my new found understanding of our process behavior, I followed this casket down the line with added curiosity. Would someone else notice the defect? Anyone? How far down the process will this casket go before this defect is seen? Would it get all the way through to final inspection without detection? Would it even be caught by our inspector?

This casket moved along the conveyor matched to takt time, station by station, without a single associate taking notice to the small scratch with a small, torn hole on the bar label. Finally, the unit arrives at final inspection. I figure we have an 80% chance that this defect would be noticed in our human inspection process. The small scratch goes unnoticed and the units is passed, ready to be packed for delivery. I guess this unit fell on the 20% side of the equation.

Before the unit had a chance to continue on to our customer, I pointed out the defect to our inspector. It was subsequently tagged and repaired, a simple repair was all that was required.

Does things like this happen in your operation? If you were part of the leadership at this site, what lessons would you learn from this? What is the true problem or problems? Can you see all the missed opportunities?

Friday, December 05, 2008


“The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” Huang Po

Lean Civil Disobedience

After a full day of kaizen yesterday, I made it just in time to watch my son play in his soccer double headed last night. It is always exciting to watch these games as these young athletes, in this case it was the 10 year old and under league, learn the game, practice their skills and have fun playing the game. It also made it very pleasant to watch the game in the comfort of an indoor soccer field while a light snow flurry dusted our cars in the parking lot.

The games were fun to watch even though my son’s team ended up on the low end of the scoreboard in both matches. The games were fairly typical except for one particular incident that caught my attention.

It seems that one of the team members on the opposing team was not happy with the coach’s decision to put him in as goalie. He reluctantly walked to the goal and stood there with his arms folded across his chest. I don’t know exactly why he disliked being the goalie except for maybe the idea that most of the kids say it’s boring to be the goalie or it’s not important. It seems the kids would much rather score goals than block them.

The coach yelled from the sideline for him to put his arms out and be ready. In return, the boy yelled back that he didn’t want to be goalie. The coach answered back that he had no choice and he better get with the program. In an open display of civil disobedience, the boy yelled back that he would play goalie but he was not going to use his hands. When we scored the next goal against this goalie that only half heartedly used only his legs and body to block the ball, he yelled back to his coach, “See I told you not put me in as goalie.” His coached yelled back that he would be the goalie until he started using his hands.

This struggle went back and forth as the game progressed without much change in position between coach and player. Maybe it was the fact that the player was the coach’s son that made it worse. Maybe it was the lack of subs that prevented the coach from pulling his son out of the game.

If you were the coach, how would you have handled this situation?

What would happen if the coach pulled his son out of the game and the team played without a goalie? Would the importance of having a goalie become readily apparent? What kind of message would the coach send?

Can you see similar situations where civil disobedience occurs in our workplace as we progress on our lean journey? Do any of our employees refuse to lift their arms to make a point and wait for a change to fail only to shout “See I told you it wouldn’t work!” How well do we explain the importance of the positions or changes to gain buy-in? Do we respond like this coach on our lean journey?

How often do we place greater importance on winning the game over taking action to teach valuable lessons?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Master of the Obvious

Getting your Masters Degree in Business? Going after a Master Black Belt Certification? Masters in Lean Six Sigma? Do you secretly wish to be a Jedi Master? (Just for fun). Perhaps some other level of mastery in a specific body of knowledge is what you seek?

All are worthy pursuits in the quest for self improvement or development on the lean journey, except maybe for the Jedi Master one. However, I suggest that becoming a Master of the Obvious is a far greater challenge and one that we should consider utmost on our lean journey.

I am not talking about repeating what has already just been said therefore adding no value to a discussion. What I mean by Master of the Obvious is seeing what is right before us that most of us do not see. It’s about not missing the details. It’s about mastering the art of listening. It is about the ability to grasp the real situation objectively. It is the ability to make some complex things simple. It is about seeing through all the noise and getting to the essence of the matter. It is about making the connections. It is about having common sense that is sometimes not all too common. It is about being open minded to a better way regardless of our past beliefs.

Face it; most of us are oblivious to the obvious. With so much noise, clutter and stimulus coming at us at a faster and faster pace, it is understandable that we have difficulty making sense of it all. It is an amazing characteristic of human nature to overlook things depending solely on what we decide to focus on. It is also amazing that despite all the facts that may be known, we refuse to face reality because of ingrained thinking or habits.

Try this short awarness test of your powers of observation.

Awareness Test-Amazing - video powered by Metacafe

Here is a great example. As reported by the CDC, “Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection”. And every year, almost 100,000 Americans die from infections they catch in health care settings. One of the most obvious ideas (plain old common sense) would have doctors and other health care providers wash their hands as often as they should, right? But some research suggests that less then 50% of the doctors wash their hands as much as they should. Why?

What a waste!

The same can be said of each of us as we leave a public restroom. Some observational studies conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health reveal that at three separate public events, the percentage of females that washed their hands after using the public restroom were 64%, 65% and 75% whereas only 30%, 39% and 51% of the males bothered to wash their hands. And we wonder why we have so many colds going around?

Maybe I’ll ask for only female doctors in the future?

It is a difficult path to be a true Master of the Obvious because many times we are fighting our own human nature and irrational behavior but it is not impossible. The first step is self awareness that we need to improve our skill and then devoting time to practice our skills on a daily basis. Learn by doing.

Learn to Stop, Look and Listen more often. Work in small teams to help each other see what the other misses. Be a teacher and a student.

Make it your mission to develop people.

Be curious.

Open your mind. Have a beginner’s mind. As taught by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”.

Go and see for yourself.

Ask why? Ask why 5 times.

Instead of running after ambiguous or poorly defined problems, look at what is right in front of you. Fix it. Now prevent it.

Ask the people closest to the problem for their thoughts and ideas. Ask people the farthest away for their thoughts and ideas. This is not a discussion to share your ideas with them. To many times we are only listening for the pause when others speak as a signal for us to jump in with our thoughts and ideas. We are not focusing on what they are telling us. Keep silent except to ask questions and really concentrate on listening.

Fight the forces of the dark side that cause us to immediately think of the reasons why we can’t do something instead of focusing on how it could be done.

And in the profound words of Yogi Berra, sports legend and true Master of the Obvious, “You can observe a lot just by watching”.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Are you Chasing the Rabbit?

One of the keynote presentations at the 2008 AME Conference was Steve Spear, author of Chasing the Rabbit. Steve’s presentation was a brief highlight of his new book which I have just finished reading. The main topic was stepping up to the challenge of complexity and examining the rabbits within our industry which is reference to high velocity, market leading organizations to learn how they always seem to lead the pack.

Several interesting points were mentioned like identifying the four capabilities of high velocity organizations.

Capability 1: Specifying design to capture existing knowledge and building in tests to reveal problems.
Capability 2: Swarming and solving problems to build new knowledge.
Capability 3: Sharing new knowledge throughout the organization.
Capability 4: Leading by developing capabilities 1, 2, and 3.

Another key insight is step by step training. Instead of dumping tons of information and tasks to learn in unison on a person to learn, it is suggested that teaching in smaller bits is a better approach. For instance, if you have an assembly line job with a takt time of 57 seconds, let the associate learn only the first element and the teacher perform the others tasks each cycle. Once the employee has mastered this task element, then and only then do you add the second task element while the teacher performs the remaining tasks. After the employee masters the second task, you add the next task. This step by step approach is repeated until all tasks are mastered.

In my opinion, the best part of the book discusses problem solving. The key learning for me is using the problem solving process to learn to become better problem solvers, not just to fix things. The act of problem solving gives us the practice in observing, analyzing and piloting change. So problem solving becomes a means to an end, improve the process to improve the people. WOW!

In Chasing the Rabbit, Steve details some great examples to illustrate from his viewpoint what makes companies a high velocity organization. A great book that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008 AME Conference Experience

What a great experience to learn from so many lean leaders and practitioners. After two days of attending sessions and networking with others on the lean journey, I have to say I have learned a lot.

I really liked the opportunity to talk with others on the lean journey and share our stories. It is amazing to hear all the great lean stories and there are so many of them out there. It renews my energy levels and fills me with hope for our manufacturing future in America.

Honestly, not all the sessions were flat out homeruns but I learned something in every session none the less. I just wish I could have attended more sessions and didn’t have to choose between so many good stories.

Here is a quick list of lean points that I am taking back to Batesville Casket.

From Dan Jones, Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy, UK: We need to accelerate our lean journey and close the performance gap. It is not a choice anymore, it is mandatory for survival. Ask the right questions rather than issue instructions and telling the staff what to do.

From Ken Goodson, Executive VP Operations, Herman Miller: Capture the gains and reinvest. As you free up resources, move them out and give them other tasks.

From David Mann, author of Creating a Lean Culture: For daily accountability-ask why and follow root cause. For visual controls-focus on process and capture the misses. For Leader Standard Work-We should maintain the visuals, convert the misses to improvements then sustain the improvements.

From John Shook, author of new lean book Managing to Learn: When you tell someone what to do, you take ownership and responsibility away. Create a process and provide an environment for improvement. A3 makes it easier to persuade others and understand your thinking. The A3 process leads to effective countermeasures and problem solving.

I did get a few moments to talk with John one-on-one between sessions earlier this morning. We specifically talked about Batesville’s lean journey and lean beyond the shopfloor. I did get a copy of his new book, Managing to Learn and I hope to pass on my review soon. Thanks John!

Other points:

* Hire best fit with emphasis on attitude and trainability
* Lean without education and training is not sustainable.
* To change your culture, you have to work within your current culture to do so.
* Lots of examples of employee led training and developing topic champions within your company.

My session this morning went very well and there were some outstanding questions throughout from an engaged audience. I hope to improve my delivery on a few points in the future but I felt that I got our lean message across. Thanks to all those who attended!

Tomorrow is the last day for me as I head back home. I plan to listen to Steven Spear, author of the new book Chasing the Rabbit (I got a copy of this one too), in the morning and hit a couple of other sessions. I’ll pass on any lessons in my next post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

AME Conference Toronto

I made it to Toronto tonight for the AME Conference this week. It should be an outstanding week and I look forward to learning more on operational excellence from my fellow lean practitioners. As the week goes on, I’ll post on my experience.

Try Something Different Today

One of the barriers to Kaizen is found in the comfortable arms of the status quo. For most of us, we have difficulty breaking away from what we feel secure in doing. If you really think about it, we are creatures of habit.

The biggest reason preventing us from change is fear, either real or imagined. To help us overcome our fear, we should embrace opportunities to practice doing things a little different. This spirit of adventure is extremely helpful in embracing the kaizen way.

You don’t have to do anything radical in trying something different. Pick a small change but pick something. For instance, it could be just trying a new way to go to work or picking a new restaurant for lunch or dinner.

Just last week while in Chihuahua, Mexico, I took this challenge. For the first time, I rented a car for the week and drove myself around in a foreign country. I did have a little help from a co-worker who knew his way around the city which made it a little easier. Certainly, there were some anxious moments but the experience was thrilling to me.

On the way to Toronto, Canada today for the AME Conference, I sat on the plane behind a family of four going on vacation. The two kids were probably 4 and 5 years old on their very first airplane ride. As we took off, the kids were looking out the window, really excited to fly.

Even as we hit a few bumps soon after take off, they filled the cabin with laughter like we were on some amusement park ride. Their laughter was contagious as all the adults around us started to laugh with them. These two kids embraced this new experience with complete joy and pure wonder.

For our lean journey, we could learn plenty from those two young kids. Embrace the experience of trying something different today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where There is No Standard, There Can Be No Kaizen

These words spoken by Taiichi Ohno have been one of his most popular and well known sayings within our lean community. Typically, we use his famous words to stress the importance of establishing standard work as a baseline to measure any changes to signify actual improvement in our process. Without standard work, we can not be sure what impact our changes had on our process. The emphasis of standard work is clearly placed at the beginning of the kaizen process.

We teach the kaizen process to be four distinct steps:
1. Establish the existing standard work.
2. Analyze the current process
3. Make improvements (PDCA)
4. Document the new standard work

From these steps, we see that standard work is both the beginning AND the end of the kaizen process cycle. Not only is standard work required to begin kaizen, we also need standard work to finish kaizen.

How many kaizen events do we conduct where establishing the new standard work is not completed by the end of the event? Does our activity to document the new standard work normally end up on our homework list? What happens to our kaizen if the new standard work is not documented?

Documented standard work is just a simple written description (with pictures) of the safest, highest quality and most efficient way known to perform a given task or process. It is best written by the associates who actually performs the task and should be written in the most direct and simplest form possible.

How many tasks and processes do we perform daily where there is no documented standard work? How many of the tasks or processes have changed while our documents remain the same making them outdated.

In my experience, we do not place enough emphasis on documenting the new standard work in our kaizen event process so we easily backslide. The result is still the same. If you don’t document the improvements into new standard work, there is no kaizen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mi Mejora Continua

While rolling out our My CI program to all our manufacturing facilities, we learned that acronyms do not translate well. In our Chihuahua, Mexico plant, where I am currently consulting on two kaizen events this week, the use of CI (short for Continuous Improvement) was not well understood.

As a result, we changed the name to “Mi Mejora Continua” which simply drops the acronyms and spells it out as “My Continuous Improvement”. By the way, this employee suggestion program has had a fantastic start with over 50% participation level in just two months. We have expanded our kaizen wall fame twice already and filled all three walls up with implemented ideas from our associates.

As for acronyms, I have written in the past about the problems of acronyms as a barrier to better communication. Please avoid them as much as possible. It is amazing how acronym use has embedded itself deep into our culture. Think text messages. How many things are not completely understood in our daily life because of an acronym?

It is just not text messages. A few years ago, while helping my father-in-law out at his shop one Saturday afternoon, a wedding reception was about to begin at the local VFW Hall, which was located next door. As the wedding party made its way down the street to the VFW Hall, all the horns were blaring and people stopped to cheer them on. My 10-year old nephew, who was helping us out, watched with the rest of us as the cars parked out front and the wedding party made its way into the hall.

My nephew looked up to me and asked what the “V” meant in “VFW”. I told him the V stood for Veterans. He didn’t say anything at first and had a puzzled look on his face. So I went on to explain that VFW stood for Veterans of Foreign Wars and a little about this organization.

Oh, he replied and then added that he always thought the F stood for Funerals and the W stood for Weddings and he just couldn’t figure out what the V stood for.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Greensburg Honda Begins Production Today

At 7:50 am this morning, the first Honda Civic production vehicle, a 4 cylinder, 4 door, crystal black pearl sedan, drove off the assembly line here in Greensburg, Indiana. It was cool watching what once was cornfields transformed into a world-class manufacturing operation designed to be a zero landfill waste operation from the start. Check out the details from the press release at Inside Indiana.

Spirit of the Toyota Suggestion System

Yuza Yasuda, author of 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas: The Toyota Suggestion System, describes the spirit of the Toyota Suggestion system in this simple thought- “I want to make my work easier to do, even if only a little bit.” He goes on to say “If people are on the alert to detect problem points, and the environment is created that makes it easy to notice problems, the supply of creative idea “seeds” will not run out.”

Our job as lean leaders is to help create that environment and inspire everyone to act, to take action to make improvements. With the My CI process, we have seen hundreds of small, simple improvement ideas already implemented to make our jobs easier just a little bit.

A recent My CI idea by a shop floor associate was to add material stops on the end of a conveyor track. In twenty years of operation of constantly monitoring material on this conveyor and occasionally picking up material from the floor, this “problem” was just considered as part of the job. Not anymore thanks to an alert associate. His supervisor commented that it is amazing that this problem was not “noticed” for so long despite so many people working around it everyday.

The opportunities for improvement are truly infinite.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kaizen 30-Day Homework List

At the end of a fast paced, energy draining, week long kaizen event, despite all the improvements achieved, our teams always ends up with tasks that they did not complete during the event. Even with a well defined scope and dedicated kaizen team, some items from our kaizen newspaper still remain open. During the kaizen report out, these items show up on our kaizen 30-day homework list.

Some things to think about……

Are kaizen 30-day homework lists considered good or bad?

Can we complete a kaizen event without having a 30-day homework list? Should we?

What does this say about the effectiveness of our kaizen event?

What items are allowed to end up on the list?

Do we intentionally leave items off?

Do we put the same high level of energy and focus on completing the 30-day homework list as we put forth during our kaizen event itself?

Do we follow-up on the 30-day homework list?

Are homework items tracked, measured and reported?

Are people held accountable? Don’t blame the dog!

Do homework items get done?

How can we improve our 30-day homework process?

Do certain items habitually find themselves on our homework list? Is there a pattern?

What resources can we dedicate or make available during the event to help reduce the number of items ending up on the homework list?

What can we learn from our kaizen 30-day homework list?

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I finally found a copy of the book 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas: The Toyota Suggestion System by Yuzo Yasuda and I did have not pay the going rate at Amazon (starting at $198 used) to read it. One of our new production managers owns a copy and he graciously lent me his copy to read. (Thanks Gene!) It is a very good book and I’d love to have my own copy but not at the current price range. It’s good but not that good.

As pointed out in Mark Graban’s recent post on his Lean Blog, The 20 Things a Supervisor Should Not Say, there are plenty of interesting points found in this book.

One of the more interesting pieces I read is a part talking about Toyotaism. According to the book, the original Toyotaism was written in 1935 as the “spiritual foundation of the entire company”. As written in this book, Toyotaism is…

With harmony between supervisors and workers, with sincere devotion to work, strive to help your industry and your country reap the fruits of progress.

By studying and developing your creativity, always anticipate the treads of the times.

Be on your guard against showing luxury, while making effort to be more frugal and courageous.

While maintaining a warm and friendly attitude, improve the atmosphere in your own home.

Have respect for the Gods and the Buddhas, always repay a kindness, and show gratitude.”

According to the author, this version of Toyotaism lasted until 1989 when it was revised to the following:

“Always think of the customer first; considering the basics of manufacturing, always making products that are outstanding for their high quality, low cost and technical excellence.

With a foundation of mutual trust between labor and management, cheerfully make progress as a company highly valuing creativity.

Stimulate Toyota activities everywhere, inside and outside the company, while cooperating to expand business.

Contribute to expanding our economy and building up a better living environment for our society by doing business actively all over the world.

Strive to improve yourself through self enlightenment, constantly on the alert for any new social or market trends.”

After reading and re-reading these points, I continue to be fascinated by the depth and scope found in these points of Toyotaism. Very interesting, indeed!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My CI Wall Runneth Over

It just took a few months and we filled up our Kaizen Wall of Fame with implemented ideas from our associates at the Batesville Indiana plant. So far, our simple kaizen process is becoming another brick in our lean foundation. Although we may consider extending our wall, we are currently taking down the oldest ones and replacing them with the newest ideas. Fantastic job by our Indiana associates!

Since the beginning of our initiative in April to improve our Total Employee Involvement at Batesville Casket, we have introduced the “My CI” process to all 5 manufacturing plants in North America. Each plant now has a Kaizen Wall of Fame to recognize the ideas of our associates and share their ideas.

For those of us on the lean journey, we know this is not just a manufacturing thing. Next stop for joining the “My CI” process is our corporate office!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Dreaded Stopwatch

In the middle of a value stream mapping kaizen event, the team was stopped dead in its tracks. Our first-time team leader approached me in a semi-panic state. She quickly informed me that the union rep told the kaizen team that they could not take time studies in their production area because we did not official notify the union ahead of time. He was standing firm by this contract rule.

“Mike, what should we do?” she asked with stress in her voice. “We really need these times to complete our value stream map. You told us we should not rely on computer times and go to gemba for our data.” she pointed out.

“Yes, that is the better way.” I answered.

For a typical value stream map kaizen event, we plan to complete the current state map, the future state map and the implementation plan to get to the future state in only 3 days. Throw in a half day of training and the report out, this leaves us with only 2 actual work days. There is no time to waste to meet our objectives.

“Let’s go back to gemba and talk with the union rep. Can you introduce me to him?” I asked.

Since I have only been with the company less than a year, I have not learned who all the 550 associates are in this plant although I have already conducted lean training sessions for the entire plant. I certainly did not know all the plant rules either so this was an additional learning moment.

As we walked together to the department, our team leader provided additional information, “Dave is the department union rep. He is a long time veteran of the plant and a stickler for details.”

As we walked up to Dave, the kaizen team leader introduced me to him. I reached out to shake his hand. “Hi Dave, it’s great to meet you. How are you this morning?

“Yes, I remember you from our training session. I’m doing fine,” he answered back.

I started by saying, “I hear that we did not follow the respect for people principle by not telling you ahead of time about timing some jobs in the department. I apologize for not letting you know. Can you teach me about this union rule?”

“You bet I will!” he stated with a slight air of boldness. He began by saying, “Our union contract clearly states that before anyone can take time studies to set job rates and change our job instructions, the union must be officially notified 24 hours in advance. Since you did not tell us, you can’t take the time studies, period!” At this point, Dave looked like he was not about to budge one inch. Rules are rules.

I went on to explain that we were not there to time study the jobs to set rates or change job methods. We just wanted to take some basic time observation for our value stream map. I took the time to provide a few details on the purpose for the value stream map. After about 15 minutes of open, honest discussion between the two of us, Dave agreed to let us take our time observation data. The event was back on track and went on with great success.

In reflection, the stopwatch has earned a dreaded reputation on our shop floor. Most people do not like to be timed and over the years, many people associate a stopwatch with someone getting let go or working harder. It is no wonder that stopwatches are not a welcome sight. A stopwatch is just a tool and its how we use it that matters most.

We also see opportunities to improve our communication with all our associates as we go to gemba to make improvements. This situation could be seen as just another example of union roadblocks or management steamrolling, but we should simply look at this example as a moment to engage our entire team, to better align our team focus and to practice respect for people. Take the time that these moments present to us each day to live the principle of respect for people. Each time we do, our team becomes stronger.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beware the Slippery Slope along the Lean Manufacturing Path

In Lean 101, the lean approach is concisely stated as the elimination of waste in our processes. While waste elimination gets to the core of the lean approach, it is just one key aspect within the lean journey. The most notably result of waste elimination is cost reduction. If asked, cost reduction easily jumps to the top of any upper management’s list of major benefits in following the lean approach.

But somewhere on the lean path, we can start to slide down the slippery slope and fall off the path. Our cost reductions turns to cost cutting and we quickly fall into the mode of cutting corners. Delay a machine repair. Reduce or eliminate our Total Productive Maintenance program. Cut back on building maintenance. Let racks and fixture degrade. Forget the daily 5S, just make more products. Cut a little more and cut a little deeper, why not…we are still pushing out our products, right?

At first everything looks great at the bottom line but that is just a short term benefit. It doesn’t take much time until the destructive nature of cutting corners starts to make its presence known.

All our previous gains suddenly evaporate. Overtime goes up, machine breakdowns increase, deliveries are missed and quality problems are popping up all over the place. Chaos reins. We must regain control. Time to drop this lean approach and we jump into our past-proven, all-hands-on-deck firefighting mode.

Here is a simple example of cutting corners. Most of us drive cars and it is recommended that we change our oil every 3,000 miles. At a cost of about $35 to get our oil change and estimating our typical annual mileage at 20,000 miles, it costs us $210 a year.

But what if we only change our oil every 6,000 miles? Our costs are cut in half. But what if we go 12,000 miles before we change our oil? We can save 75% of our annual oil change cost!

But are we really saving anything in the long run? Factor in the reduced life of our car, increased downtime and repair bills to come and we learn first hand what is meant by the old saying “pay me now or pay me later”. And the “pay me later” ends up costing us more, sometimes a lot more. We now can begin to see that our cutting corners approach is not a good approach from a total cost standpoint in the long run.

As we look to our own lean journey and at the “improvements” within our own organizations, are we focused on reducing wastes or are we really just cutting corners?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Many Kaizen Team Members does it take to Change a Conveyor?

At one of Batesville Casket’s kaizen events last week, we found out the answer to this question. It took the whole team of eleven members in pit crew style just under 29 minutes to change a conveyor track. Our event was focused on adding different casket models on to our main assembly line and attempted to make the changes without a disruption to production, hence the 29 minute goal which was completed during the assembly department 30 minute lunch period.

With the planning and precision of a professional pit crew team, our kaizen team planned out all the elements of the change and staged all the material along with tools using basic SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) principles. Once the buzzer blared signaling the start of the lunch break, the kaizen team jumped into action. Despite the close quarters and a couple of uncooperative fasteners, the kaizen team successfully completed the conveyor change as the line associates returned from lunch to start the line back up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Glory Days

“Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
and I’m going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit
around thinking about it but I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days.

Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days.”

A popular song lyric from the 1980’s written and preformed by Bruce Springsteen.

How many of us fall into the trap of living on past glory as described by Bruce Springsteen? Can we see this same mistake in our company? How long can you or your company sustain growth by feeding off the past?

At Batesville Casket, we have been extremely successful on our lean journey and have received a few national awards along the way. A few weeks ago, if you drove by the entrance of our Batesville Indiana plant, you would have seen a huge banner above the main entrance of the plant proclaiming “Industry Week 2006 Best Plants Winner”. A great accomplishment indeed and it is something to certainly be proud of and celebrated.

However, if you drive by our plant today you may notice that our banner has been removed. It is so easy to live off our glory days and before you realize it, we find ourselves getting comfortable with the status quo again. That is the main reason we have taken our banner down.

Imagine feasting on Thanksgiving dinner and living off the leftovers. In most cases, we would say it was wonderful meal with good cheer, even the leftovers taste good. Despite the fantastic feast we once enjoyed, how long can we survive off that one wonderful meal? It was meal to be remembered but it can not sustain our strength or provide endless nourishment and growth for the future. We must rely on other meals or we will grow weak and die.

The same is true on the lean journey. We must rely on future improvements for our survival or we will grow weak and die. Celebrate our past success but do feed off past feasts. The lean journey is about moving forward and not living in the glow of past success. We can not grow our companies on yesterday’s achievements.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Point Lesson Results

From my last post on the power of point lessons, the results from our spaghetti diagram training are in. After a short 15 minute lesson followed by an opportunity to learn by doing, we were able to identify and shorten distances traveled within our operations. The total daily distances before kaizen was 23,122 feet and after kaizen the new distance traveled was only 3,299 feet. Fantastic! In just one day, we eliminated 19,823 feet of daily distance traveled for an 86% improvement. That is elimination of over 3.75 miles of walking a day within our plant. Point lessons can be a powerful, simple tool.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Powerful Point Lessons

As a Lean Sensei, I try to live up to the standards set by my Japanese Lean Sensei as I teach the way of lean. Although I readily will testify that I am not perfect in my methods with ample room for improvement, there are teaching moments that actually seem like magic. These wonderful, magical moments are where the student and the teacher hit the sweet spot. Things seem to fit together without force. Everything aligns and clicks. Excitement and joy are created, very much like the feeling around Christmas time.

I experienced one of those moments today with a group of my students (a rare case when this experience typically occurs just in one-on-one moments). I was leading a simple point lesson at lunch time with a small group of plant leaders from our Batesville plant. The topic was the classic spaghetti diagram. The spaghetti diagram is a simple map indicating the path of a part or person through a process. As you draw the travel path back and forth, up and down, etc. the lines can resemble a bowl of spaghetti noodles.

For a point lesson, it is best to focus on one small topic and keep it short, usually I target 15 minutes depending on the topic. Following the short explanation (using little or no PowerPoint slides), I have my students now try it. Learn by doing is the best way to understand. If done well and often, these point lessons can have a far greater impact than full blown kaizen events.

I asked the students to go to gemba (shop floor or office) to find a process of their choosing to map using the spaghetti diagram. I gave them a deadline of just the next 20 minutes. The group practically ran out the door to meet the deadline. I knew I would get a few good responses upon their return but I was not entirely prepared for what happened next.

At the appointed 20 minute deadline, my students started funneling back. Everyone was excited about what they discovered in just 20 minutes. People were comparing stories and looking over the discoveries of the others. Many of the students were shocked at how much travel they just witnessed. Plenty of ideas were being thrown out to make improvements.

With that, I asked them to please make those improvements as tonight’s homework assignment due by the end of the day tomorrow. After making these improvements, I asked that each of them sketch out an after kaizen spaghetti diagram and share it with the group.

In just a short, focused 35 minute session of learn by doing, we had over 20 processes targeted for immediate improvement. Pretty Awesome! I can’t wait to see the results tomorrow. It almost feels like I’m seven years old again on Christmas Eve. I'll let you know what I find under my tree tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Top 12 FAQ about My CI

Although the concept of My CI is quite simple and straightforward, it is similar to many of the other elements of a lean way where the concept is easy to understand but the execution is a bit more difficult. As we began the My CI implementation, there were several challenges that we had to work through and questions to be answered. Here are some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that may help you if you plan on starting on program like this one.

1. Who is involved in My CI?
Everyone is involved and encouraged to participate from CEO to temporary employees. We stress leading by example.
2. How do you announce the start?
After a few planning sessions, we conducted organizational wide training sessions to make sure every employee understood the need for this program, how it is different from a traditional suggestion program and how the process works. During this ½ hour training session, we officially announced the start of the program.
3. Is training really needed?
Yes. By investing the time, energy and dollars in these training sessions, we insure everyone gets the same information about My CI. It also sends a strong message that we believe this program is important enough to shut down production or use overtime for training.
4. When do you conduct the training?
We worked with the management at each site to plan the best way to get all the associates on all shifts through the training in a 1-2 day time period. Some sites required we train on overtime while others made time during normal working hours.
5. Who decides if the idea will be implemented?
We encourage the associate and their direct supervisor (team leader) to try the idea out first and determine if the idea works. Our My CI process is geared toward getting all the ideas implemented and keeping decisions at the lowest levels. The key is working with the team leaders on coaching skills to support the process.
6. Is it difficult to decide?
This has not been a problem when using the lean principles as a guide.
7. What if an idea fails?
In the words of my Japanese sensei to me when faced with a failure, “Please try again”.
8. How do you handle the implementation of the approved ideas?
We encourage ideas that can be implemented by the associates themselves. Sometimes we get ideas requiring some outside support from management, maintenance, tooling or even a supplier which turned out for us to be about 50% of the time. These ideas took a little longer to implement and we provided the support.
9. Do you have a designated maintenance team?
No. We use our regularly staffed maintenance team for support. We have learned from other companies that they have successfully formed designated kaizen support teams from hourly associates freed up from kaizen activities to help implement kaizen ideas. It sounds like a great idea that we may try out.
10. Do you post pictures of the implemented items for everyone to see?
Absolutely! A major component of My CI is employee recognition and sharing ideas that’s why we created our My CI Kaizen Wall of Fame in the plant where everyone can easily see all the ideas. At one plant, we hold a lunch meeting every Friday with the entire plant staff showing off the ideas from their area that week. We also added the ideas to our communication monitors throughout the plant and post them on our company wide intranet site.
11. Do you provide any incentives or rewards for the ideas?
We do not provide any special rewards or money for each idea, only recognition by posting the associates picture with their idea on our Kaizen Wall of Fame and public/peer recognition. We also encourage ideas that make their jobs easier and better which reaps benefits everyday. But this does not mean you could not add an additional incentives if that works in your company to increase participation.
12. Do you track the savings generated by the ideas?
No, we only track the participation level on a weekly basis. This metric is one way to reflect our company morale. We believe if we added the burden of tracking savings that we would create disagreement on how the savings are to be measured. The other reason is that putting a dollar figure to each idea might inhibit people from generating ideas because their idea did not save a lot of money compared to other ideas. Creating an environment to generate lots of ideas by everyone is more important than waiting to implement only “homerun” ideas.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Within the first few months at Batesville Casket, I quickly noticed a significant weakness in our lean approach. This weakness is very common among companies that try to follow the lean path of continuous improvement. It’s the lack of total employee involvement and I’ll stress the TOTAL part.

That is not to say there is not employee involvement in our lean approach. Over the course of our long, lean journey to date, we have had some great success in involving many different employees in making improvements, especially on kaizen events. However, most of the involvement was from management. In addition to a lopsided management participation level, we have not pushed ourselves much beyond the manufacturing walls.

The good news is that we recognize this gap in our lean approach, laid out some countermeasures and started actively changing our ways. The most significant countermeasure we have launched is our “My CI” initiative.

From my lean manufacturing study tour in Japan courtesy of the fantastic JKE hosted by Gemba Research, I have learned how many Japanese companies promote, cultivate and embrace the simple kaizen approach implemented by all associates. The cornerstone of Toyota success is their improvement and suggestion system by all team members. This process is described in outstanding detail in the exceptional book “The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen” by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek. With these examples as a model, we have developed our own employee motivation and suggestion program called “My CI” which is short for My Continuous Improvement.

Basically, we have set up a process for employees to implement improvements or simple kaizen which are just simple ideas to make their jobs easier and better. These ideas are described as common and ordinary ideas that are within our control to implement in just a short time (like today). Everything is included from safety, quality and productivity improvements. If the idea can save one cent or one second, that is good enough.

As I described over a year ago about this system and creating a Kaizen Wall of Fame, we have now created our own Batesville Casket Company Kaizen Wall of Fame as seen in the picture above. So far, three of our five plants have started the process. Since our company is spread out across the globe and we believe each of our ideas should be celebrated and shared, we have added a virtual Kaizen Wall of Fame on our intranet site to allow associate access to any idea generated in addition to seeing the ideas posted up on the actual wall at each of our sites.

Our goal is to reach a level of total employee participation across the entire corporation (manufacturing, corporate office, logistics, distribution and even sales) where each employee contributes 2 ideas per month. It is a lofty goal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back to Blogging

As you may have noticed, my posts over the last 20 days have been as non-existent as a passionate Hillary supporter at an Obama fundraiser in June. Occasionally I have periods like this when my kaizen travel calendar gets full and I fail to make the time to post. I had every intention of posting after the kaizen events in the evenings but the kaizen events are so intensive, so demanding and so time consuming that I have little time or energy left late at night. Over the past several weeks, we have completed three great kaizen events in three different plants, trained hundreds of our associates on our “My CI” program in two plants (more on that in upcoming posts), and I even took some time off to take my family on vacation to Washington, DC, and coastal Virginia. My kids (age 7 and 11) got to experience a bit of American history in DC but we did not restrict all our vacation time just on museums and monuments. We certainly took time for some outdoor adventure by hiking at Great Falls National Park, exploring Chincoteague Island to see the wild ponies and kayaking in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It was their first kayak experience and they loved it. I loved it, too! Even though I love kaizen activities, we must never forget how important it is to spend time with our families. Just a note, the video clip is from beautiful Great Falls and not on our kayak adventure. Good thing, huh?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

We the People

The preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America begins with one of the most powerful principles of our country, We the People.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In reflection this Independence Day, our country was founded on extremely high principles and values. Our founding fathers envisioned a country that could rise higher in its purpose, standing for truth, justice, freedom, democracy, equality and tolerance. We proclaimed our lofting ideas in the Declaration of Independence for the world to see - that every person enjoys a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Over the course of our nation’s history, we have found that our noble ideas are simple in word but hard to live up to. We have not always acted in a way that is described in our own inspired words. The journey is difficult by we keep trying as a nation to follow this path.

Our lean journey is not unlike our nation’s journey. The high principles of the lean philosophy, like respect for people, are easier said than done. Respect for people is about treating others as we wish to be treated. Respect for people is focused on total employee involvement, team work, inclusion in meeting a higher purpose.

We the people and respect for people appears to go hand in hand. When we refer to our nation, we mean all our citizens, just like when we refer to our company, we mean every employee. Our employees are the company.

Sometimes we forget this and think of employees no different as our machines, to be used or discarded as needed all in the name of profit. Profit in itself is not evil however greed and power can blind us from our principles and values.

As we return back to work, take a moment to reflect on our nations founding ideas and be thankful for our freedoms. For those of us on our lean journey, look to our lean principles and ask ourselves how we can better live up to them. Most importantly, do we say we believe in respect for people but fall short in our daily actions and decisions? How much better could we build our company and our nation if we could improve our actions in line with our inspired ideas and principles? It all begins with “We the People.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Words of Samuel Beckett

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
Samuel Beckett. Irish author, poet, Nobel Prize in Literature (1969).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Value in Value Stream Mapping

When we first embarked on the continuous improvement path, we called it JIT (Just in Time). As the term lean became popular with the book Lean Thinking, we expanded our focus to eliminating waste in our process. We jumped right to massive kaizen mode with literally hundreds of kaizen events across the corporation completed each year.

The little mistake we made was skipping the identification and mapping of our value streams. Even as it was pointed out by our lean sensei that we should do a value stream map, we did not see the value in value stream maps.

Our typical mindset was: What’s the big deal in doing a value stream map anyway, why can’t we just make improvements? We know what the problems are and don’t need to waste our time doing maps. We see waste now, just let us attack it. Aren’t we making improvements without needing these maps? Maps?..We don’t need any stinking maps.

Sure, you can make some improvements without value stream maps however we learned that not all our improvement activity led to bottom line results. What was worse, our improvements did not always add value to our customer. After a little humble reflection, we realized our lean efforts were nothing more than cost reduction and we were starting the stray off the path. What happened to reducing lead time and increasing customer value?

We were faced with another change in our thinking and took step back to learn about value stream maps. After several training sessions and just doing it, we began adding value stream mapping to our “way of doing” things. We still are not experts at value stream mapping but have experienced a nice boost to our continuous improvement efforts.

Where we found the most value in value stream mapping was being able to see and understand the whole process (value stream) where previously no one person ever did. We only knew our little sections of the process. This helped us look at optimizing the whole value stream instead of improving our sections, usually at the expense of the whole. We also started focusing on lead times as opposed to cost reduction. The maps also helped us prioritize our kaizen efforts aimed at making a bigger impact for our customer instead of just a shotgun approach. We now see our kaizen events as “Strategic Kaizen”. Finally, value stream maps helped us all agree on our current state and what our future state vision looks like. With this shared vision, our team began to move forward as a team.

If you have not begun using value stream maps yet on your lean journey, don’t just dismiss them as an optional step. There is value in value stream mapping.

Inventory has a Purpose

Inventory has a purpose, it's to hide problems.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AME Conference Promo

Here is a short 9 minute 18 second promo video on the 2008 AME Conference in Toronto. I have the honor and privilege of presenting at this conference on our lean journey at Batesville Casket focusing on Total Associate Involvement, Relentless Kaizen and Lean Leadership. I hope you can join us.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Air Kaizen

Are you in the air business? I’m not referring to filling up tires, the airline industry, the medical gas industry or Michael Jordan Shoes. My question is about the plain, simple air around us. To put it another way, do you press, push, drill, turn, paint, move or ship air?

For example, at one of our recent kaizen events, we found that we are pushing air at one of our presses. In this process, parts are loaded onto a feed table to the side of the press while the machine is cycling. Once the press finishes its cycle, the completed parts are automatically pushed out of the press by the new parts being pushed in from a pusher. The only problem is the distance or gap between the staged parts going into the press and the press opening is over 24 inches. That’s a lot of air being pushed as the parts travel across the feed table before they actual enter the press.

The countermeasure for air muda at this machine is really pretty simple. With a little help from our talented maintenance staff, we made a new mounting bar and repositioned a limit switch for the pusher to close the gap to under 4 inches. The result is a 4% productivity improvement without purchasing a new machine or radically changing the method.

This machine was a bottleneck station and we were having a difficult time meeting our takt time causing an overtime situation. This simple kaizen along with some other improvements got us back to meeting takt time.

We found similar opportunities on other pieces of equipment throughout our operations resulting in 5-10% productivity improvements each time we did a little air kaizen. Take a critical look at your processes to see if you are in the air business. How many of your machines are set up to cycle through air before touching the actual material? Apply simple kaizen to the process and work yourself out of the air business.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Emergency Cost Cutting Mode

It appears that 2008 is going to be a tough financial year for many companies due to economic woes, housing bubble busts, rising prices (oil and metal to just name a couple) and rapid consumer/market swings. When we go through these business cycles, it can be rough going as companies jump into their emergency cost cutting mode.

As a lean thinker, I try to learn from these cycles and try to act in a manner that is consistent with the lean philosophy. I also scan across the news reports to see what other business leaders are doing to add to my knowledge both the good and the bad strategies.

My first thought is that we should not be surprised by downturns in the economy. The economy is a cycle and we will always experience ups and downs. I find it mildly amusing and a little discouraging when I read about company leaders that publicly admit to be surprised by this downturn. Like a deer in the headlights, they proclaim that they didn’t see it coming.

Second thought, we face major business challenges every year, although they can and do change year to year. No big news here.

Third thought, we are expected to improve year over year to be successful or even just to survive. Continuous improvement should be a given. Again, no surprise for most of us.

So what actions should we take?

Looking across the business community, we can read plenty of announcements from company CEO’s declaring their action plans to deal with the economic crisis. Here is a list of what seems to be the most popular actions from mainly American companies.

1. Layoffs
2. Plant closings
3. Selloffs
4. Mergers (Under the theory that two poorly operating companies combine to make one better performing company)
5. Outsourcing
6. Re-organize
7. File bankruptcy

We can add to this list with more internal actions that don’t always make the headlines like:
8. Cutting travel
9. Cutting capital spending
10. Delay paying invoices
11. Hiring freeze
12. Cutting or eliminating bonus
13. Wage freeze
14. Cutting R&D budget and projects
15. Increase marketing
16. Cutting the IT budget
17. Across the board budget cuts (the lazy management choice disguised as sharing the pain)

The sad part in the last several decades of my business life is that many of these popular actions do not require an economic crisis to execute them. Even during the upswings in our business cycle, many of the same items list above are regularly used to increase profits.

But do they work? Are there other options?

According to the Daily Yomiuri, when asked “What will Toyota do to cut costs?” Toyota Motor President, Katsuaki Watanabe answered, “We’ve started what we call “Emergency Value Analysis Activities”. We’ve formed teams to review every single part and component over the next six months to determine how to improve design to reduce production costs further.” He also added,”Some employees still lack awareness of these activities, but we plan to develop our human resources in tandem with this effort.”

Hummm…Dramatically increase kaizen activities through design and develop people.

Which actions are short term thinking and which are long term thinking? Which emergency cost cutting mode do you think is the best choice? Would some combination of both short term and long term actions be better?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Kaizen Cycle Continues

As I stated in my last post on the barriers that block kaizen, get past them and find a way to kaizen. But sometimes, despite all our efforts like in our recent Vicksburg kaizen event, the results fall short of expectations. So what do lean thinkers do in cases like this?

We just start the kaizen cycle again…in the same area …even before the 30 day follow up.

In our kaizen event report out, the team shared a typical 30 day homework list that we limited to key items to be completed in only two weeks. We ended the homework list by adding the request to run another kaizen event with the same team to continue our kaizen efforts to reach the targeted goals.

The cool thing about this team request was why the kaizen team wanted to do another event so quickly. It was not just to hit the goal that we fell short but rather that the team had several great ideas to make improvements and didn’t have time to try them all out in the first event. They wanted more time to experiment with these ideas and make it work. This kaizen team “SEES” the opportunities and has the “PASSION” to act. So what do lean leaders do in cases like this?

We let them kaizen!

As lean leaders, one of our main responsibilities is to provide the environment and support for kaizen which is exactly what we did in this case. Our kaizen team will get another chance to experiment with their improvement ideas in two weeks. The kaizen cycle continues.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Relentless Pursuit of Kaizen

Daily circumstances encountered on our lean journey certainly make it a challenge to constantly pursue kaizen. It takes energy, skill, courage and dedication to push aside these barriers that block our path towards improvement. We must learn to be relentless in our pursuit of Kaizen.

It is the easy path to postpone, re-schedule, delay or even cancel planned kaizen efforts when a barrier stands in the way. These barriers could range from available manpower, down equipment, hot orders, new priorities or even just a higher level of daily chaos. Any and all of these barriers quickly pressure us into pushing off kaizen and jumping into our firefighting mode.

Jumping into firefighting mode was literally what happened to us this past week a mere 30 minutes before our scheduled kaizen event was to start. On Tuesday, at our Vicksburg, Mississippi wood processing plant, the fire alarms blared as we safely evacuated the plant. Thank goodness, no one was hurt and the fire damage was minimal.

The fire just happened to be located at one of the machines in our targeted kaizen event area which had us quickly evaluating what to do. On top of that, we lost one scheduled team member and expected to lose some critical maintenance support as a result of the fire. Our planned kaizen event was in jeopardy of being delayed or cancelled.

This is a point that we could have taken the easy path and no one would have harshly criticized us for pushing off the event until another time. We also considered going to another area in the plant however we did not have any pre-work for another area completed and thought that would be a low success decision. After a short meeting, we came to a decision on a course of action.

We decided to relentless pursue kaizen as planned in our target area. By pulling the team together, we worked around the down machine while it was quickly being repaired which ended up only taking a day to fix. Despite the fire, lost team members, production schedule changes due to the fire and machine downtime, we still found a way to kaizen. The results were not as high as we expected yet we still improved productivity on this line by 28%.

Don’t let barriers lead you to the easy path and delay improvement efforts, find a way to kaizen. If you do this, you are starting to change your mindset from kaizen being an activity or event to kaizen becoming a way of life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lean, Reliable and Lubed 2008 Conference Experience

This week I attended Noria Corporation’s Lean, Reliable & Lubed 2008 Conference in beautiful downtown Nashville, Tennessee. My hat’s off to the staff at Noria for a simply outstanding job delivering a world class event. Special thanks to Paul Arnold, Editor of Reliable Plant Magazine for hosting the Lean Manufacturing program and inviting me to speak about our lean journey at Batesville Casket Company. And I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Drew Troyer, CEO of Noria Corporation, for taking time to personally help me find the right location (after a room change) for my scheduled interview even though this occurred just barely 20 minutes before he gave his keynote address. What an outstanding example of customer focus and unselfish service to others!

Although the majority of the over 1,500 in attendance were primarily drawn to the Reliable World and Lubrication Excellence segments of the conference, I was excited to see an overall interest in lean manufacturing from many of the participants. More and more companies are exploring the lean approach and judging from the representatives in attendance this week, it appears that they are making an effort to learn as much as possible based on all their excellent questions and participation.

It was a great conference to hear and discuss many lean topics from well know lean presenters and a few new ones like myself. The best way I judge a conference is if in the middle of several of the presentations, I have this insanely strong urge to jump out of my seat to improve our processes based on what I was learning. This happened several times to me during this conference and I wanted to rush back to Batesville Casket to try some new ideas ASAP. I can’t wait for our upcoming kaizen event on Tuesday.

For me personally, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet face-to-face for the first time with my friend, Karen Wilhelm, writer extraordinaire for AME/Target and her lean blog, Lean Reflections. Karen has some wonderful insights on the world of lean and I truly look forward to reading more from her in the future. I also had the great pleasure of meeting two new friends, Ross Robson, Former Executive Director of the Shingo Prize and Mike Thelen, Lean Facilitator for Hub City. Both gave great presentations filled with wisdom and passion for continuous improvement along with many points adding to my lean knowledge. Mike has led some great improvement efforts and sustained some excellent lean practices like their daily gemba walk at Hub City. And thanks Ross for the $$ for winning your quote challenge. As seen in the picture above, (from L to R: Ross Robson, Mike Thelen, Karen Wilhelm, and me-Mike Wroblewski), we had just finish a great lean discussion over lunch.

As an added bonus, I had the opportunity to meet the great racing legend and past Indianapolis 500 race winner, Mario Andretti. What an unexpected pleasure to meet such a legendary race car driver, fierce competitor and true gentleman.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Power of Leverage

The great Greek mathematician and engineer, Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) once remarked on his work with levers, provided he had a lever big enough, just “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth”. This boastful claim was based on his experimentation of the power of leverage.

A lever helps us multiply force to gain a mechanical advantage, or more simply, the ability to do more with less. With the length of the lever and a properly placed fulcrum (the support point for the lever to raise or move), we gain an advantage in our effort.

Based on this power, not only can we leverage our effort, we can leverage practically anything like money, knowledge, and contacts. Leverage make things works for us and we get more output with less effort. As simple as this notion sounds, many of us tend to stumble over what this means and how it works. Sometimes we are quick to take effort away and expect more results without changing the method or tool which only results is in us working harder. From a lean application, the power of leverage to do more with less is deeply embedded in our thinking.

What does Toyota use as leverage? At a glance, there are many ways Toyota creates leverage including their quality, reputation, brand name, cash flow, innovation and design. But their greatest asset is their people and Toyota uses this strength as their largest lever of all.

One powerful example of Toyota’s leverage with their people is by teaching, coaching and expecting everyone to be problem solvers. More problems are solved in a shorter period of time. By comparison, many companies fail to match Toyota’s problem solving skill not in intelligent levels but because we making problem solving an exclusive activity of managements and engineers.

People create, innovate and experiment. People learn and think. People create value. Robots and machines do not. Like Toyota, we say that our people are our greatest asset yet we are also quick to cut headcount to make our quarterly or year end numbers. With each headcount reduction and layoff announcement, we proclaim a cost savings. But all we are really doing is shorting our lever.

BONUS:Check out this cool example of the power of leverage by Wally Wallington.

Workplace Mantra: We MUST Stay Busy

During our fantastic kaizen event in sunny Chihuahua, Mexico last week, I was reminded of a common phenomenon still found in the workplace that people do not like to be seen idle so they will do anything to be seen as working. It’s like we follow this workplace mantra, repeating over and over again: we must stay busy…we must stay busy.

It never fails, when anyone is being observed they will do anything to stay or look busy. There seems to be this powerful unseen force in nature that tends to make us feel very uncomfortable to be idle when at work especially if someone is watching. The resulting action is for us to do something (anything) which is better than doing nothing. This pressure to “do” is magnified if the people around us are busy working or the higher up the ladder the person watching us is employed. It is worst if the person doing the observation is from the corporate office.

The problem with this stay busy work ethic is that we tend to fill our time with typically non-valued added tasks. Overproduction is one of the most common results. More importantly, it hides the problems of imbalance and work flow. Remember, motion does not equal value.

For example, we combined some operations to point of use on one of our main assembly lines in our Chihuahua kaizen event. In our old process, we had built up some work in process (WIP) inventory. Through our experimentation, we proved that the WIP inventory was no longer needed so we were trying to consume it.

I was standing next to the associate that worked in this cell and just by me observing him for an extended period of time, he felt compelled to follow the workplace mantra. He began building ahead just to stay busy. It took a surprising amount of effort and coaching to get him to understand and believe that it was ok to be idle. We also explained to him that by working ahead, he was also “working harder” and increasing his cycle time by taking extra steps and double handling. Finally, we were able to eliminate the WIP and get back in flow.

As a helpful hint, we suggested a list of more value added activities to could be done during this idle time rather than overproduction. This list included some equipment PM, workstation 5S or even thinking time to make improvements to their job. Yes, thinking!

So next time you are in gemba, look for signs of the workplace mantra in your operation. Use it as an opportunity to teach a better approach then joining in the crowd chanting…We must stay busy.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Value Stream Maps are Muda

You might be thinking that I have lost my kaizen mind by the title of this post. How can value stream maps be muda (waste)? Simple, if you think the goal of value stream mapping is to create a current state map and a future state map of your process then I will stand by my statement that value stream maps are muda. The purpose of value stream mapping is not to create the maps.

The entire value stream mapping process, regardless of accuracy and number of strategic kaizen bursts identified, will just be a waste of time if you do not include an implementation plan to get to the future state and then actually act on this plan. The goal of the value stream mapping process is to achieve the future state.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

Today is Earth Day 2008. Maybe it’s only me but it seems that this year it’s gotten substantially more press coverage than in Earth Days past. I think it is a great notion to put the spotlight on our eco-behaviors (or lack thereof) and make a positive effort to “do” more about improving our mother earth than just debating about what to do. However large or small our green activities, we should all plan to “do” something to improve our environment for our future. As part of the manufacturing community, we should also improve our company eco-behaviors for a cleaner future. It’s simply the right thing to do.

The 5S approach is just one example. Teach the basics of 3S (Sort, Straighten and Shine) and ask them to be repeated daily to achieve 5S. Explain that this is not a Spring Cleaning program to be completed once a year but a daily way of life. Encourage a daily 5 minute routine for everyone although you certainly can do more. And, focus not so much on cleaning but making a workplace organized to immediately see problems at a glance, any abnormality from standard.

Finally, while it’s great to see pictures and hear stories about the great volunteer work to clean up all the trash found in parks, rivers, and lakes, we should also follow the 5S lessons to look for the source of “dirt” and put in countermeasure to prevent it from getting “dirty” in the first place.

Now that we see we can make an effort on at least one day a year, let’s apply the kaizen approach and not wait until Earth Day 2009 to do anything else. Remember, the better approach to sustaining change is through gradual, small frequent improvements everyday.
Earth Day should be everyday, nothing special, no banners, slogans or t-shirts. Our actions to improve the environment should just be part of our daily way of life.