Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is Social Media the Next Lean Tool?

This year, facebook reports membership at more than 500 million active users with over 50% active each day and more than 30 billion pieces of contact shared each month. This would make facebook the 3rd largest nation in the world behind China and India, easily exceeding the US population.

Twitter seems to be the dominate microbloging player with 75 million estimated users although the numbers are not confirmed. We have LinkedIn, Blogs, YouTube, iPhone Apps just to mention other popular communication tools.

With the growing popularity with these forms of social media and the vast number of communication offerings, can they be used to improve how we conduct business or more specifically, can they be used in a lean transformation?

This is just one of the experiments that Xerox is trying in their Lean Six Sigma initiative according to Aqua Porter, VP corporate Lean Six Sigma Operations in her presentation today in the Lean Manufacturing Track at Noria’s Reliable Plant Conference 2010.

This is not the case of a hammer looking for a nail. No, it is simply a method to bridge poor communication. This includes slow communication, lack of sharing best practices, lack of interactive communication, etc. It is viewed as the way to improve customer dialogue as well as internal communication, both vertically and horizontally within the company.

One application in particular under test at Xerox is the use internal microbloging tool Yammer. Yammer describes their platform as "a tool for allowing companies and organizations to become more productive through the exchange of short frequent messages. The standard Twitter question is "What are you doing?", whereas with Yammer you answer the question "What are you working on?'".

Since this is still a new tool to their Lean Six Sigma approach, the results are still pending. I applaud Xerox for their boldness and open-mindedness to experiment with social media.

Despite the overall popularity of social media and unlike Xerox, the typical corporate viewpoint on social media is not one I would consider “embracing with open arms”. In my experience, the typical corporate viewpoint on social media is based on fear, control and legal protection. It is not viewed as a positive tool and certainly not something to be done “while on the clock”. Does this closed-minded view limit us in tapping into the power of social media might offer?

What do you think? Is your company embracing social media? Does social media mix with the lean journey?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spare Parts

What do you see in this picture? Beside a lack of any real 5S, what thoughts come to your kaizen mind about the motors?

Perhaps you may think about what are the motors used for? Do we really need them? Are they critical? How fast can we get one if we needed it? What is our process to decide what parts to keep in stock? Or how much do they cost?

One of the elements of a solid Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) program that does not get much attention is our spare parts. By simply taking good care of our machines and equipment does not entirely eliminate the chance of them breaking down. When that happens, the fire drill begins.

Go to any Maintenance Department in any company in the country and you find many things in common like a storage area for supplies and parts. Since this is typically viewed as a non-production area, we tend to ignore it.

With a kaizen approach, we need to improve all areas of our company including spare parts. With good TPM program, we should develop standard processes that establish the method to what parts we keep on hand.

First, a team based approach is best used to identify the critical parts that we may need. We can use the recommended spare parts list by the manufacture but only as a starting point. Many times this list of parts can include more parts than we should keep. Look at the machine history but also take care not to include a part just because we got burned back in 1982 when it broke down for 6 months.

As a guideline, critical parts can be identified as recent chronic problem areas and difficult to obtain within 24-48 hours. Cost should NOT be a factor. If the chance of a problem is high and we are left waiting days or weeks for the parts to come in, it’s better to keep these parts on hand no matter what the part cost is. Compare it to lost business, customer disappointments, etc to factor in the decision. Discuss this with your team and company management to determine what makes the best sense in your situation.

Once we have a plan, set up a spare parts list by each pieces of equipment and clearly identify them in our stock area.

As all things in lean, this is not a static process, it’s dynamic. The spare parts list needs to be reviewed on a regular basis, perhaps once a year. Machines fall out of warrantee or the manufacturer not long supports this model in either service or parts.

Without a standard process for our spare parts, we may find parts on the shelves like the picture above.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Defense of Kaizen Events

Over the past several years, I have encountered a growing negative view towards kaizen events, continuous improvement events, rapid improvement events, kaizen blitz or any other name we assign to a typical week long, team based improvement activity. I have been told by one company executive “That kaizen events are too expensive and the results are not sustainable.” I have heard from many different people that “Kaizen events are just a way for consultants to make quick and easy money.” The negative comments go on as one senior company executive told me that “Kaizen events are a sign of immaturity on the lean journey.”

In reflection, all these comments about kaizen events may indeed be true depending on the circumstances. I have seen kaizen events which are expensive along with a high amount of backsliding from the initial results. Certainly, there are many lean consultants and practitioners out there that use kaizen events as their primary (only) method of getting process improvements. But the comment that had the most impact to me was the last one, kaizen events are a sign of immaturity.

As an infant straight from the womb, our single source of nourishment was milk. In the beginning, that is all we need and the only thing we could digest. Eagerly, we suckle the warm milk and we begin to grow. As our bodies grow and mature, we soon need more than just milk. Our diet starts to change. First we move to soft foods which satisfy our new needs. After a short time, our development continues and we have greater needs. Slowly we add solid food. Before we know it, we have a complete diet.

Much like milk, kaizen events are the sole source of our nourishment as begin our lean journey. It is all we need and we are not ready to consume anything else. The main purpose of a kaizen event is to grow and develop people. To help us practice observing, solving problems and experimenting in a high energy, fast paced environment. Events are great team building experiences. Kaizen events should engage people to improve, a chance to experiment and fail, to learn from our mistakes and to hone our thinking skills. Ultimately, we begin owning the improvement process, growing and maturing as we add more to our lean diet.

If all we feed ourselves is milk, we will restrict our growth and development. As lean leaders, if all we teach others is to warm milk, what results would you expect? The key is add to our diet as we need it and can digest it; going from milk directly to solid food will not work and may cause harm. Adding to our diet as we grow and mature does not mean that we completely abandon drinking milk either as some may suggest. The nourishment found in milk does not change.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Motor Intake TPM

Here is a simple kaizen for motors which can be part of our Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) program.

1. Remove the motor intake cover over the fan.
2. Clean and repair fan as needed.
3. Re-attach cover and place filter over vent area.
4. Add motor inspection and filter replacement to operator checklist.

It does not take much dirt to collect in the fan to restrict airflow which causes the motor to run at higher temperatures and leads to premature failure.

Which is easier, better, faster and cheaper: Replace a filter or replace a motor?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beer Kaizen

If you like the Toast Kaizen Video like I do, here is a funny parody video called "Beer Kaizen" done by KCOE. Laugh and Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Lean Blog 2LP

I stumbled across a relatively new lean blog called 2 Lean Principals or 2LP for short. It features lean thinking from Jason Ballard and Tom Riney. Welcome to the lean blogging world, Jason and Tom. I hope to learn much from the both of you.

Kaizen using Tennis Balls

Here is a great “creativity before capital” idea using tennis balls. I have actually seen this used with excellent results in a plant lunchroom. Put tennis balls on the legs of the chairs.

Without this tennis ball protection, the chairs can mark up the floor as it slides around resulting in extra work to clean the floor. In addition, the noise level of chairs screeching across the floor is disturbing to the nearby office and training room. The tennis balls act as sound deadening devices. To some this may not appear too stylist however it is an inexpensive solution that is easy to do! What do you think?

For more tennis ball ideas, check out a post from the past by Jon Miller, A few more kaizen ideas involving tennis balls.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Toxic Employees

Over my career, I have run across “difficult” people. These include no particular group; they have been bosses, co-workers, employees, team members, rank-and-file, clients, suppliers and customers. Most cases, these difficulties are overcome through improved communication and team building behaviors. In the cases that are not so easily improved, I typically find a “toxic” employee.

What I mean by toxic employee is one with a negative attitude and makes it part of their mission in life to drag everyone around them down to their dark side view of the world. They are the hard core, concrete heads that fight all improvement efforts. They seem to always have a sarcastic comment about every topic and management decision. If things go their way, all is good but stand back if things go counter to their liking. They could be openly negative or take little shots from a distance. They sap the energy and life force from everyone around. In general, most people don’t like to work near them.

What do you do in a situation like this?

But what if this employee is a rock star salesperson or contributor but has the bad attitude? Do you put up with the attitude issue for the great performance?

Does performance override character? Or do we want performance and character?

What if this person when confronted, justifies their behavior with “it’s the truth and I’m the only one with the guts to speak out”? What if this person is a top executive with political ties to the company President yet others below feel the pain?
What if this person is not an employee but a customer?

Is it following our “respect to people principle” by not addressing this person’s behavior?

Do you have toxic employees in your organization?

Back from my Summer Break

As you may have noticed or perhaps not, my posting has been non-existent for the past couple of months. No worries, just focusing on my clients, traveling and taking a little family summer vacation hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to recharge. New and exciting posts about my lean learning will follow. The mountain water was extremely cool on a hot, humid summer day!