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.