Archive for category Hansei

Lean War Trophies

For millennia, warriors have taken war trophies to commemorate their victories. They range from the souvenir to war reparations to the just plain gory.

We’ve got flags and weapons and things like seagoing vessels, such as the US Coast Guard’s tall ship Eagle – courtesy of the defeated Nazi navy. (My son has a lot of great memories on the 295 foot Eagle.)

And then there are human trophies. You know scalps, heads, ears – that kind of stuff.

So, where am I going with this?

Lean implementation is a never-ending war. It’s a hard and noble effort.

Occasionally, we need to smell the roses and reflect. This includes basking (ever so) briefly in the team’s success.

A war trophy can help in the commemoration, serving as a poignant and necessary reminder of a substantial past victory…and the possibility of future ones.

Sometime the victory is the fruit of superhuman work. Like tearing down a two story, 220 square foot cinder block and wood building that impeded flow – and accomplishing that in one shift (True story. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a chunk of concrete!).

More often than not, there is physical work, but the real win has to do with the organization taking a giant lean leap of faith. In other words, doing something that definitely does not seem in the best interest of an otherwise healthy sacred cow.

Now that is deserving of a lean war trophy.

I remember my first trophy, circa 1995. It was an elaborately machined aluminum “stopper” – picture something on the order of a one foot wide and 10 inch high book-end.

Its purpose in life was to prevent the partially assembled product speeding downstream on a motorized conveyor from overwhelming the downstream assembly operators. These downstream operators could position the stopper so that it straddled the conveyor and basically dam it up…at least until one of the upstream pieces of equipment went down (a routine occurrence) and provided an opportunity to catch up.

Interestingly enough, this line (actually there were 6 identical lines) had been proudly called the “JIT Line” for years!?  You know just-in-time…as in takt, flow, and pull.

Clearly, none of that JIT stuff was going on, just a lot of overproduction and frustration.

Fortunately, these lines were ultimately reconstituted into single-piece flow cells, without any conveyors or isolated islands. I took one of the obsolete aluminum stoppers as a war trophy – less so for the physical conversion from push to pull. More so for the important revolution in thinking.

That was something I wanted to remember.

Pictured in this post is a nylon block – one of a couple hundred that were used to hold product as it wound its way through a curing cycle. It’s my most recent trophy. Admittedly, I encouraged others to take one as well.

The block was liberated from a machine – actually, there were two identical ones…twins! Both of the machines have been moved away to a warehouse. Hopefully, it’s a very temporary stop on the way to scrap yard.

Anyway, these machines were the proverbial universal automated behemoths, engineered and built by folks who didn’t have to live with them.

They took up a lot of space, were less than reliable, required two pairs of operators to feed and unload, didn’t necessarily match takt time, etc. In a John Henry match-up, the manual lines would win. They are more productive, more flexible, produce better quality, and so on.

But, when you spend a lot of money on a project, it’s tough to say goodbye. Unless of course, the organization starts to really get it. And they did, hence the trophy!

I’ll keep this one for a while.

So, do you have any Lean trophies?

Related posts: The Perils of “Lean Relativism”Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!

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Tattoos, Lean, and Regrets

A friend and colleague provided me with this tattoo parlor photo. He was passing by and just couldn’t resist the irony of it all.

The lack of permanence around the sign construction makes the whole thing even more entertaining.

My friend and I share the same passion for lean as well as an often bizarre brand of humor. He thought the photo was blog worthy, although he wasn’t quite sure of the exact subject.

Well, I’m not one to waste a good picture.

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Lean, by it’s very nature, is not permanent. Certainly, if a transformation is not progressing, then it’s not transforming.

If it’s stagnant, it is decaying.

But, I digress.

I’m no expert on tattoos. In fact, I don’t have any.  Although, there were several “near misses” in my younger days.

Other than the stick on variety or henna types, there is very little PDCA around them. Sure there is “plan”, which sometimes doesn’t get the proper rigor before it quickly turns into “do.” Note that tattoo plan and do is best done without the assistance of alcohol and peer pressure.

The “check” part, other than the review of the stencil before the needle, seems to happen largely after the artwork is complete. By then, “act” or “adjust” options are pretty limited.

Lean is a lot more forgiving. Real PDCA, especially within the proper culture, is freeing. Renewable in may ways.

But, as I think through my modest career thus far, I have to ask myself whether I have any lean regrets.

Unlike in the song My Way, my regrets are not too few to mention. So, here are some of my own, along with regrets that I think others should have (based upon my observations over the years).

  • Bending or compromising on one or more lean principles
  • Being too rigid on a lean tool and missing the point (a.k.a. the principle)
  • Not using open-ended questions enough
  • Making technical changes without corresponding management system changes (i.e., leader standard work)…and seeing improvement gains evaporate over time
  • Getting into useless arguments about whether folks need to adhere to standard work. Sure we need to understand the why, but following standard work is a condition of employment. End of story. Improve it if the standard work is not sufficient.
  • Assuming (a.k.a. not validating) that folks understand key lean concepts
  • Not aligning leadership at the very beginning of the lean transformation
  • Not acting quickly enough to remove the saboteurs (after a genuine effort to convert them)
  • Forgetting that people development is as important as business results
  • Giving someone a fish because it’s more expedient than teaching them how to fish
  • Basing leadership assignments more on technical skills than core competencies/behavioral skills
  • Not fixing (or at least containing) problems immediately
  • Prematurely moving from pilot to full scale deployment
  • Ruminating about stuff while sitting in a conference room rather than going to the gemba and personally conducting direct observations
  • Short-cutting problem-solving

The list could go on and on and on.

Of course, unlike in a tattoo scenario, we can reflect and adjust. We can turn our regrets, assuming that we can grasp the root cause(s) and apply effective countermeasures, into strengths.

And, in a form of yokoten, we can share our hard-earned learnings, so that others may better avoid some of our mistakes.

What “lean regrets” do you have?

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Listening, 12 Narrow Lean Gates

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How’s Your Lean Conscience?

Cricket picI’m guessing very few have asked that question before. Conscience is a judgment of reason by which we recognize the quality of an act before, during or after we do it. It’s really not Jiminy Cricket, although his quote, “A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to,” isn’t too far off the mark.

So, what’s a lean conscience and who should have one? Well, a lean conscience is a judgment of reason by which we can tell whether we’re living lean principles (respect for the individual, humility, flow, pull, scientific thinking, integration of improvement with work, etc.). Lean leaders and practitioners should have a lean conscience.

Of course, with “ownership” (of a conscience) comes responsibility. Traditionally, there are three obligations people have when it comes to their conscience.

1. Act on it. If our conscience is well formed (see #2, below), we should act on our lean conscience. How many times do lean leaders walk by a process in which people are not working in accordance with standard work or there are defects and it’s business as usual (jidoka?…later, man) or perhaps there’s a situation where we could have coached someone so that they could have solved the problem, instead we “gave” them the answer because we didn’t have the patience, or…you get the point.

2. Form it. It’s possible to have an improperly formed lean conscience. Maybe there are some significant holes in the understanding of lean principles, systems or tools. Big gaps can cause big problems. Who hasn’t encountered issues when people who are supposed to know better are “serial batchers?” We are obligated to keep on studying and learning by doing so that we can continue to form and inform our lean conscience.

3. Don’t act if there is uncertainty. Well, maybe we should disregard this one. This does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind, but we need to be experimentalists, not with lean principles themselves, but in the application of the systems and tools within our own particular value streams. Of course, when in doubt, getting started, and/or when there is some real business risk, get a sensei.

So, here’s a call for some hansei (reflection). How’s your lean conscience? Does it bother you? Do you need to form it some more?

Related Post: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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