Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Big Fire Mentality

There is an old Indian saying I learned back in my Boy Scout days that goes, “White man build big fire, sit way back…Indian build little fire, sit up close.” Think for a moment, why would a little fire be better than a big fire?

For young scouts, this saying helped teach a valuable lesson in conserving resources. In Scouting today, we teach low impact camping that actually discourages building campfires altogether.

As a lean thinker, maybe we can modify the saying a bit, like: “Batch thinker build big inventory, sit far apart…Lean thinker build little inventory, sit close together.” Or perhaps, “ Batch thinker buy big machines, sit far apart…Lean thinker build little machines, sit close together.” Or how about, “Manager build big offices, sit far away…Lean Leader build open offices, stand in Gemba”.

If we look around at our processes, it may appear that we still operate with the big fire mentality. A good first step is to build smaller fires. The future challenge is to embrace the low impact approach.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Data is like Art

When you look at a painting or a sculpture, what do you see?

Some art is simple and we see it for what it is, like a landscape or a person for example. Other art is more abstract. Before long, we may focus on the colors, the media used, the texture or other minuet details. Maybe we look for the artist intent, meaning or message behind the art and certainly we draw our own conclusions. We may even develop a story to go along with the painting or sculpture. Some art we fall in love with while other pieces are just OK. And there is some art that we may find a strong dislike towards.

People can see the same picture or sculpture and see different things. Just like with art, people can see the same data and see different things and derive different meanings. Ah, Hah! Here within lies a barrier to improvement. While this diversity in viewpoints works just fine in the art world, it certainly makes kaizen more difficult.

I just assumed once data is proven that the data becomes fact and everyone can move forward in agreement. It is a great way to overcome opinions people bring to the table. Add going to Gemba to the get the facts and we have a powerful method for kaizen. Facts are facts, right? Not so fast, my friends. It is not that simple.

At a recent kaizen event, we wanted to make some process changes that would benefit our paying customers. But before we moved forward, we wanted to evaluated and address some of the potential process issues that would be barriers to this change. After multiple experiments and simulations, we obtained an excellent bundle of data for our kaizen effort which seemed to point us in a course of action.

At this point, I thought it would be easy to move forward when it happened. Holy Smokes, our data suddenly became art. Not everyone on the team looked at the same data and came to the same conclusion. More important, they were passionate about their viewpoint that caused disagreement between team members.

I also noticed that when our opinions run deep within us it causes us to discount or ignore data that tells us otherwise. I have learned that when data supports our opinion we accept it without much fight however when data is counter to our opinions, we tend to argue against the data. The main lesson I learned is that it is not about the numbers, it’s really about what the numbers mean.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How do we Sustain Kaizen Results?

This is a common question that I get asked and an issue that we all deal with on our lean journey. We work hard at identifying opportunities and finding ways to reduce waste in our processes only to see many of our gains erode over time. How do we sustain our kaizen results?

There are most certainly several factors that could affect our kaizen sustainability however I would like to focus on just one. In my experience, the quality of our kaizen follow up activities greatly impacts sustaining our kaizen results.

In the case of kaizen events, it seems we do a pretty good job of working through all the issues, despite struggling during the week, and end up getting good results which in some cases can be amazing. In our team report out, we show the before kaizen condition and after kaizen results that were accomplished in the event followed by a typical 30 day homework list, maybe some lessons learned and a listing of future kaizen opportunities. We congratulate the team on a job well done and celebrate our success.

At this point, the erosion process begins. Many times we believe that job is done with our report out and celebration, moving on to new opportunities. We have lots of waste to eliminate, right!

But just ask the associates in the recent event area that endured the kaizen storm for the week if the job is done. Almost 100% of the time, you would get a big “Hell No!”. Some would say details, details, details but that is the point. If we don’t follow up well and get these details worked out, erosion takes hold and results are lost.

Our follow up efforts must be just as diligent as our activities during the kaizen event. That requires providing resources on a daily basis to resolve all the open issues from the kaizen activity. Be prepared that we may find that this takes more effort than the kaizen event itself.

Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the last week before the 30 day follow up meeting to crash through the list in a frantic attempt to get it all done in one day. This crash course approach almost always creates poor workmanship and weakened results.

If we think about it, this type of effort is more strenuous on our team then if we spread the follow up activity out daily for the 30 days. Not only is the work load spread out (less burden), the quality goes up.

Here are a few helpful hints that may improve our kaizen follow up:

1. Have a Kaizen Follow Up Process. Sounds silly, but some companies don’t have a follow up process at all. Create a process that works for your company and use it

2. Establish a Formal 30 Day Follow Up Meeting. Try setting this meeting date at the time of the kaizen report out for approximately 30 day out and sticking to that date. This meeting should have a formal agenda.

3. Add 30 Day results column to Kaizen Results Achieved Sheet. Typical Kaizen Results Achieved Sheets have columns for improvement measurement (i.e. productivity, WIP inventory, floor space, etc.), before kaizen, kaizen goal, actual achievement and % improved. Just add a column for 30 day follow to record what the improvement results after 30 days.

4. Put One Person in Charge of the Entire Kaizen Follow Up. This could be the kaizen team leader, sub-leader or the process owner. Don’t just rely on departments or individual assigned to tasks to finish the job. One key leader should be assigned and responsible for the complete follow up process.

5. Buy in is Still Important. We may have done a good job getting buy in for the process changes by the people in the process during the event but as things go south the next week, it is easy for people to give up. Work to remove their frustration and keep their buy in.

6. Keep our Presence in Gemba. Kaizen events are fast paced and exciting. One of the most notable features is constant presence in Gemba by the team during the week. But what happens the following week? From an associate point of view, it may feel like everybody forgot about you and you are abandoned, left on your own to make it work. Let our associates know that we are still there to support them after kaizen by staying in gemba.

7. Extend Follow up past 30 Days. Sometimes our follow up activities do not result in a stable enough process after just 30 days. Don’t be afraid to add a 60 day or even a 90 day follow up activities and meetings.

8. Kaizen our Kaizen. Reflect on each stage and element in our kaizen process. What improvements can we implement to improve our kaizen process? Include ideas from team members and associates in the kaizen areas.

With focus on our kaizen follow up process, we have a better chance of sustaining our results. It just may take us a little more work after kaizen.