Archive for category Lean Principles

Respect the Process

We’ve all undoubtedly had the notion of respect for people drilled into our heads. Of course, it’s easy to speak about such a principle. Much  harder to live it.

In any event, let me humbly add another recipient of our deserved respect.


First, a distinction, it’s not THE Process, meaning we are not talking about one single, special process that is elevated above all others. We’re talking about ANY process within our value streams.

OK, you may be thinking, why would we respect a non-person or non-entity? And how would we render such respect?

Why?respect process 2

  • Every process, standardized or not, should be respected at least to the extent that we must grasp what it is (admittedly difficult if it is not standardized) and the reason for its very existence. How many times have folks eliminated or changed a process without understanding what problem it was trying to solve in the first place, only to find that their rash “improvement” was counterproductive?
  • Basic respect is extended to people because of their inherent human dignity. A standardized process has a certain inherent value in that it provides, if nothing else, a starting point for improvement. Think back to your last time you (improved and) standardized a previously non-standardized process. Hard work, but it established a critical foundation for the next kaizen activity. As Taiichi Ohno (and Henry Ford, previously) is credited with saying, more or less, there is no kaizen without standard work. Implicit with this concept is that the proper use of standardized processes readily reveals abnormalities, which is the feedstock for problem solving.
  • Standardized processes, until improved yet again, represent the best way for the organization to do things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Why wouldn’t we respect that?
  • A standardized process represents, if established properly, the genuine PDCA and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) efforts of a number of folks. We need to respect their hard work, courage, and creativity.
  • And then there’s the slippery slope of inconsistency. If we pick and choose which processes receive respect and which are casually disregarded, the discipline and scientific thought that is so necessary for effective lean transformations goes up in smoke.


  • PDCA. It’s difficult to respect what you do not understand. Good old fashioned PDCA requires the lean practitioner to grasp the situation. The plan portion of PDCA calls us to understand and compare what is happening versus what should be happening and what we know versus what we don’t know. In other words, we should not willfully further process ignorance.
  • SDCA. SDCA is about ensuring, via audit, that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient. This assumes an organization-wide discipline to follow the standardized work and a leadership obligation to reinforce adherence and, in the event of lack of adherence, determine the reason why and the help develop and deploy an appropriate countermeasure. Sometimes lack of adherence is driven by one or more of the following: the process is insufficient, a better way has been adopted (and should be reflected in updated standardized work), insufficient training, willful disobedience, etc.
  • Patience. Standardized work needs to be lived with for some measure of time before changes should be experimented with and/or instituted. I’ve witnessed folks “trying” standardized work that was SDCA’d in an identical process from another location immediately dismiss it as insufficient (compared to their organic, non-standardized work) and then desiring to change it or just plain ignore it. Here, we suggest reasoned “tasting before seasoning.”
  • TWI. If we truly respect the process AND the person, we will effectively instruct the worker so that he understands the how and why of the process and we will verify that he can consistently execute the process. TWI’s job instruction program, for example, provides a time-proven approach for doing just that.
  • Andon. Workers must be empowered and expected to pull the andon when they cannot maintain the process and/or the process is deemed insufficient. In turn, workers must expect lean leaders to respond to the andon pull, escalate when necessary, and ultimately facilitate problem solving.

In short, respect the process and it will respect you.

Related posts: Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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ROWE v. Lean – My Two Cents

Recently, fellow-blogger David Kasprzk, introduced me to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy.  Later, he invited me to guest post with him on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Tim and David are good people with some great things to say, so I was happy to oblige.

Here’s the first half of my post. (Or, you can access the entire post right here, now.)

ROWE, created at Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, espouses a philosophy under which employees can work where they want, when they want, and how they want – as long as the work gets done.

I love meritocratic thinking!

Of course, there’s nothing like a brand new philosophy or system to challenge, and/or sharpen, one’s personal belief systems. You can’t defend that which you don’t understand.

Admittedly, I am more than a bit fuzzy about ROWE. I’ve done some reading on the internet, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m considering buying the seminal book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, but haven’t pulled the trigger.

In any event, here’s my two cents on what I think I know about ROWE. I could break into the Donald Rumsfeld spiel about known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns…you get the point. So, in the end, what I have to say is worth just about $0.02. Definitely, nothing more.

As you read this, or perhaps more appropriately, after you read this, check out Kasprzk’s latest post on ROWE. It’s right here on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Consider this a type of good-natured point/counterpoint between the two of us.

Here it goes…

ROWE ostensibly engages and empowers the workforce. It strips away some of the organizationally and self-imposed muda of rigidity and silly limitations and focuses on accountability and results. It’s tough to argue with that.

Of course, this almost seems too easy. The “Free Love” days of the 1960’s sounded great, but were not necessarily the best thing from a socio-ethics perspective.

Stupid analogy!? Maybe.

Part of my concern has to do with interdependence. In an enterprise, we can’t all be free actors all of the time – whether we are part of a natural work team or are individual contributors.

Please go to the rest of this post.

Past guest posts: “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”, The Best or Nothing, Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

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12 Narrow Lean Gates

Within virtually any serious lean transformation effort, there are moments of truth. The “truth” represents not the orthodoxy of lean tools and even systems, both extremely important, but lean principles themselves.

Violate the principles and fail that moment of truth. Do it consistently and the lean transformation will be nothing more than a lean charade.

Effective lean leaders must be unbending when it comes to principles. See figure below for the lean principles as identified in the Shingo Prize Model.

So, why do lean leaders waffle on lean principles?

There are a bunch of possible reasons. Now don’t overthink this from a 5 why perspective, but wafflers often suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Ignorance,
  • Impatience,
  • Superficiality (a.k.a. lacking conviction),
  • Implicit or explicit pressure from others (mostly above),
  • Lack of humility (the smarty-panted lean cafeteria folks take what they consider worthy and ditch the rest), and or
  • An inclination to take the easy way out (yup, lean transformations are really, really hard).

This brings us to the proverbial narrow gate.

Now, I do not intend to offend anyone’s religious or secular sensibilities here (in other words, lighten up), but I believe that this verse (7:13) from Matthew’s gospel fits the bill:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.”

Yes, you guessed it, the wide gate is the easy way. Wafflers enter through that one and take the broad road to lean transformation failure or perhaps, if they’re lucky, lean mediocrity.

The narrow gate? Well, those who do not compromise on lean principles enter through that one and take the constricted road that “leads to life.” In fact, “[t]hose who find it are few.”

The statistics (the ones about lean transformations) routinely prove that statement true.

click to enlarge

Lean leaders encounter the choice of wide versus narrow gate on a daily basis. Conviction, solidarity, alignment, knowledge, experience, humility, respect, good coaching, and a bunch of other things help folks choose wisely.

The trouble is that leaders are tested very early in the journey when their lean maturity is well, pretty immature. I’ve identified 12 of these tests that many leaders end up encountering sooner rather than later. I know it’s perhaps a little clunky, but let’s refer to them as 12 lean narrow gates (otherwise the title of this post doesn’t work).

In no particular order:

  1. Adhering to standard work. Isn’t it fun creating continuous flow and establishing standard work, especially if no formal standard work pre-existed the effort? Well, standard work is useless unless it’s followed. Same goes for leader standard work. Wide-gate leaders don’t sweat adherence.
  2. Redeploying excess workers. Standard work is “polluted” when we staff processes with excess workers, as defined by the standard work. Heck, try playing baseball with 13 defensive players on the field…whose ball is it? When we carry excess workers, we hide the waste and avoid short-term pain, while foregoing long-term improvement.
  3. Dealing with top performers who are “concrete-heads.” What to do with the person who consistently meets or exceeds targets, but openly disdains the principles of lean? Narrow-gaters defy conventional wisdom and, if unsuccessful in converting the top performer, remove the saboteur.
  4. Moving beyond event-driven kaizen only. Kaizen events have their place, but without the bulk of improvements generated through daily kaizen performed by engaged and empowered workers; there is no credible, sustainable lean transformation. Few have the courage and conviction to transition to principle-driven kaizen.
  5. (Really) establishing the KPO. Wide-gaters hedge their bets if and when they get around to establishing the lean function within their organization. Often the resources are too few, part-time, corporate-centric, and/or represented by folks with insufficient core competencies and technical aptitude.
  6. Addressing organizational design. Organizational design constricts or facilitates the flow of value and power. Sooner or later, organizational design and power structures need to be rationalized. Value stream-based organization anyone?
  7. Deployment beyond operations. Organizations do not get transformed by only improving one function. Operations are typically the lean beachhead, but breakthrough performance requires multiple functions to tango. The broad and easy road keeps lean an ops-only thing.
  8. Applying checkpoint rigor. Yes, we have value stream improvement plans and hoshin matrices, but will we actually use them to run the business and drive PDCA? Those who gravitate towards the wider road tend not to apply the necessary rigor.
  9. Rationalizing performance metrics/management. What gets measured, gets done…especially if it’s in your annual goals. Narrow-gaters address misguided metrics and performance management mechanisms to promote alignment and encourage lean behaviors.
  10. Extricating executives from conference rooms. Wide is the derriere of the non-lean executive. You don’t burn too many calories if you don’t walk the gemba. Genchi genbutsu is for losers, anyway. Right?
  11. Celebrating problems. If problems are potholes, narrow roadways provide little leeway – you’ve got to fix the potholes, even embrace them. In the land of the wide roads, potholes are something that are driven around…until they become sinkholes.
  12. Admitting we don’t know the answer right now. Narrow-gaters are humble enough to admit that they don’t know the answer themselves. They’re willing to challenge their folks, while helping them to regularly muster the courage to apply their creativity, fail, learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.

Some good news – even if we have taken the wrong path in the past, we can endeavor, today, and hereafter to choose the narrow gate.

The bad news – there are a lot more than 12 gates.

Stay true to the principles.

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, How’s Your Lean Conscience?, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

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Reflection on the Sensei’s Legacy – Life and Lean

Earlier this month, my father passed away after a long and stoic battle with cancer. He was days away from his 80th birthday. By virtually all measures, his was a life well-lived and fruitful. Jim Hamel left many who love him.

Death prompts reflection by those who remain this side of eternity. Within that mix, the word “legacy” often comes to mind.

One Merriam-Webster definition of legacy is as follows:

something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>.

The philosopher example makes sense. My father was a bit philosophical to say the least, especially relative to his fundamental attitude toward human life and destiny. He also had a wicked wit. It seems that his philosophy informed his wit…or was it the other way around?

When we think of legacy, we think necessarily of things that endure.

My father taught me many things, including how to play baseball and hockey, how to shoot, and how to tie a neck tie. In fact, he was a professional educator. Teaching was in his blood. But, those things are not truly part of his legacy.

When I was young, I was constantly impressed by how he seemed to bump into so many of his past students. Incredulously, I would ask, “Dad, how do you know so many people?”

These former students, no matter where we were, seemed to find him and then cheerfully say hello, introduce their young children, reminisce about days gone by, and so on. My father taught high school history, French and psychology (before becoming an assistant principal), but I am quite certain that the affection and memories of these students were not constitutive of those subjects. It was something more.

Much of my father’s legacy to me includes perseverance, toughness, fidelity, sacrifice and the giving of self for family and perhaps the art of wry, smart-aleck humor. The baseball, hockey, shooting, etc. were, in many ways, the stage for imparting the important stuff.

And so it goes for lean. Yes, of course there’s got to be a lean lesson in here somewhere!

My lean teachers taught me standard work, visual controls, pull systems, and the like. These things were in the category of tools and systems. I am forever grateful that my sensei imparted their knowledge to me about these important things.

But the enduring stuff, the real lean legacy is more about mentorship, humility, respect for every individual, employee involvement and engagement, the constant seeking of perfection, creating value for the customer, etc. These principles were consistently part of the curriculum…even if the student (me) did not notice it at the time.

Yes, legacy is more about principles, defined here as follows (Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1999).

principle: that from which something proceeds or on which it depends as its origin, cause, or source of being or action.

So, while I am hopeful that my clients, colleagues and friends will find my teaching around lean tools and systems helpful, I hope that my lean legacy will transcend those mere things. If so, I will have done my father proud.

Related posts: Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control, The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader


Lean Decay Rate

I’m certainly no physicist, but I think there’s a worthy analogy between the decay of radioisotopes and lean behavior within an organization.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ webpage on Radiation Emergency Medical Management:

  • “Radioactive half-life is the time required for a quantity of a radioisotope to decay by half.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively short, e.g. a few hours, most of the radioactivity will be gone in a few days.
  • If the half-life of an isotope is relatively long, e.g. 80 years, it will take a long time for significant decay to occur.”

So, enough about isotopes. What about lean “culturetopes?”

If “lean” was discontinued within your organization, how long would it take for people to revert to their native batch-and-queue behaviors? How long would it take for most of the “leanness” to be gone?

Silly question?

Perhaps. But, I think the question can prompt some useful reflection.

What would happen if the number one executive lean leader within your company left for greener pastures? Would the lean transformation stop dead in its tracks? Or would the organization shake it off and, due to the profound depth of the lean cultural evolution, continue rolling?

What would happen if there was a sudden, substantial drop in business? What if the company introduced some wizbang new technology? What if your company was acquired? What if…?

Is your lean half-life measurable in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years?

Click to enlarge

I think that the Shingo Prize Behavior Assessment Scale (see figure) can provide meaningful insight into an organization’s lean cultural half-life. The further to the right on the Assessment Scale, the longer the lean half-life…by a lot!

What are your thoughts?

Related posts: Line of Sight, Employee Engagement, and Daily Kaizen, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

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The Perils of “Lean Relativism”

Reflection or hansei in Japanese, is a critical part of lean. Without purposeful reflection it is difficult to improve our value streams, processes or ourselves.

Socrates’ oft referenced, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” rings true within lean. But, may I be so bold to add a twist?

The examined lean life without an objective standard as a reference ain’t lean.

Why would I say such a thing? Let’s borrow a few concepts from moral theology. I know, I know, please bear with me.

Well, without objective standards we risk “lean relativism” under which there are no actions or behaviors which in and of themselves are lean or not. Essentially, it’s a view that lean principles depend on the individuals and groups that hold them.


A lot of folks can convince themselves that things are more than OK, even if they’re not. Nothing to see here, everything’s lean. Keep on moving. No change required.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

There are three schools of thought under the relativist moral methodology. They can apply to lean relativism.

1) Situationism. Here folks maintain that we can’t hold to any rules, or in this situation “lean principles,” that will apply in all circumstance. We just have to look at the concrete situation to really determine whether a given condition or action is consistent with lean or not. An example – due to the fact that the set-up is painfully long (our “situation”), batching is just fine. Wrong! Eliminate or dramatically reduce the set-up and endeavor to get batch sizes down to one or something darn close to one.

2) Consequentialism. This “ism” prescribes that a specific act is neither lean nor non-lean in and of itself, but becomes so on the basis of its consequences. The ends justify the means. One major problem is that when we get into this territory, it can be difficult to understand the consequences of our actions prior to taking them…especially if we’re in short-term thinking mode. Example – the value stream manager delays (for the third time) the deployment of an andon system because he fears the consequences for his overworked supervisors and himself. The anticipated frequency of line stops and the andon response time requirements would just beat his supervisors up. Lean principles would suggest that this is NOT the optimal decision.

3) Utilitarianism. Like situationism and consequentialism, no actions in and of themselves are necessariy lean or non-lean. Here it’s all about the greatest good for the greatest number. Think of it as consequentialism on a more corporate level. Leanness can be wrapped up within whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. Hey, it’s all about respect for the worker, right? Example – the lean answer often includes multi-process operations supporting continuous flow. However, this typically requires cross-trained operators. Well, clearly not everyone is cross-trained, wants to be cross-trained, and/or is capable of being cross-trained. It requires time, effort, change management, and sometimes hard decisions. (Try this in healthcare or transactional-based industry!) You can see where this may be going… OK, we don’t really need multi-process operations OR continuous flow. It’s too painful, for too many. Just build the standard work with the imbalances in work content (% load) and lots of standard WIP and we’ll continue on. Everyone is happy now, right?

Lean principles such as humility, respect for the individual, flow and pull value, assure quality at the source, identify and eliminate waste, create value for the customer, etc. cannot fall victim to lean relativism. That’s not to say that there is no flexibility at the system and tool level, but once one starts making trade-offs with fundamentals, things get out of whack, inconsistent, and confusing.

This is exactly why leadership needs to protect lean purity and defend the organization from the attacks of relativism. Folks need to be trained and actively coached. They must constantly reinforce their thinking and skill sets by seeing, doing, reflecting, and adjusting. And target conditions can’t only prescribe measurable performance levels, but also characteristics relative to things like continuous flow, level-loading, etc.

Without objective standards, we are at risk of never approaching true north. Or if we do, perhaps we approach it purely by accident, which means it will be near impossible to sustain and ultimately further improve.

I leave you with a brief story.

Even after 17 years, I vividly remember the renowned sensei’s three page letter to us. It summarized his initial observations of our operations and his suggested plans to go forward…if we were so committed. To me, it was a first step in a great journey. According to the sensei, there was MUCH opportunity and MUCH to be done. And yet, the lead operations executive wrote something within the margins of the letter, something that seemed utterly unencumbered by reality, “Maybe we are already world class.” Yup, I’m OK, you’re OK…

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

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Lean for Haiti. Lean for Humanity.

Several weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague of mine. He shared his belief that lean is an “invention” that could and should be used for the greater good of humanity. Certainly, easier, better, faster and cheaper transcends mere profit. It’s about the stakeholders – customers, employees, owners, community, suppliers, etc. This is more than a noble sentiment.

On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake. The carnage and destruction within the poorest nation within the western hemisphere was unbelievable. And the struggles continue, including an outbreak of cholera.

Mark Graban’s Leanblog recently shared a compelling story about Russell Maroni, a faith-filled, lean-practicing x-ray technician, and his 15 day mission to Haiti in February of 2010. Mark’s post, One Year Since the Haiti Earthquake – The Charity Journal Publication Available Now (from which I “borrowed” the picture, copyright Russell Maroni), gives insight into the mission. It also asks for assistance to promote the story as captured within the PDF document, After the Haiti Earthquake: A Healthcare Missionary’s Personal Journal.

Russell Maroni’s journal, published by Mark Graban, reflects Russell’s response to a co-worker’s invitation to join a small medical team visiting the earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince area. Russell is a lean trained x-ray technician at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio. The journal even sports an A3 report, capturing the countermeasures that he put in place to dramatically improve the patient flow within his radiology tent!

The real story includes:

  • Russell’s faithful response to the missionary call
  • The moral and material support of his wife, co-workers, church, friends, and (most of his) family
  • Medical assessments of orphans
  • X-rays conducted on numerous patients – many to determine whom should be flown to the U.S. Comfort hospital ship and whom to operate on within the field hospital
  • Russell’s training of a Haitian man so that he could take and process x-rays after Russell returned the States
  • Various construction and repair projects – new latrine for an orphanage, installation of a solar-powered street light, repair of wheelchairs and crutches
  • The joyful and grateful nature of many Haitians even amidst the confusion, poverty, and physical and mental trauma

Please visit Mark Graban’s post, read the PDF document, and consider supporting an orphanage called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH). NPH runs a free childrens’ hospital in Port-au-Prince. Russell Maroni would appreciate that.

If nothing else, know that lean is about people…at so many levels.

Related posts: Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?, Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

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Lean and Six Sigma – You Can’t Serve Two Masters

We’ve all heard the oversimplification that lean is about attacking waste, while six sigma is about reducing variation. Oh yeah, and theory of constraints (TOC) is for increasing throughput by identifying and exploiting constraints.

Oversimplification makes things easy to label and seemingly easy to communicate. Unfortunately, it’s not the whole story. In fact, it trivializes the holistic nature (especially) of lean and it artificially isolates and extracts.

This post is not intended to explore lean versus six sigma in an academic way – it would be  very long and probably unsatisfying. What I would like to discuss is how unfruitful it is when an organization does not successfully fuse the two within a comprehensive business system. One that, by it’s very nature, establishes the principles, systems and tools, so that there are not two camps, but one.

Now I don’t have a huge sample size. We’re talking about ten. But it seems that whenever an organization initially launches a serious six sigma effort and then, sometime after it has taken root, later introduces lean, there’s an uneasy and separate “coexistence.” Not unlike the Hatfields and the McCoys. (This phenomenon does not seem to occur when the order of adoption is reversed – lean first, then six sigma!) A famous first century quote as captured within Matthew 6:24 [RSV], summarizes the dynamic well,

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

(Of course, there’s a bunch of folks within most organizations who don’t serve either of the two…but that’s an entirely different story.) The point here is that any enterprise that seeks, at a minimum,  to transform its operational performance and  necessarily its culture cannot afford to have the incoherence of two separate tribes.

The following is a caricature of the tribes:

  • The six sigma tribe. Primarily made up of nomadic technologists with different color belts serving the “project master.”  They extract big money (oftentimes the accounting appears “creative)” by applying DMAIC and DFSS and then…move on. The six sigma tribe is  sponsored by executives who help direct which money trees should be shaken and how much money is required from the shaking.  The six sigma tribe thinks that they already know the “lean tools” – it was covered in their belt training. They also believe that the lean tribe is slow and sophomoric.
  • The lean tribe. Traditionally comprised of real and wannabe adherents to TPS. Those who are committed and “get their hands dirty” learn that lean is much more profound (and elusive) than they ever imagined. They believe that the six sigma tribe does improvement to people and not with people and that their improvements are rarely sustained. Of course, they cause and suffer the same when they do not deploy lean properly. The lean tribe sees six sigma as part of the lean umbrella and does not understand why it is allowed to exist within a parallel universe.

The aftermarket “lean bolt-on” kit that is sold to many of the heretofore six sigma-driven companies can be as unsightly as that balding guy with a bad toupee. Just adding an “L” to the “SS” does not, by itself, make things unified. I know of one creative multi-billion dollar company that tucked the “L” AFTER the “SS.” Yes, SSL! Is there a belt for that?

Here I suggest some good old agnostic thinking. For the moment, ditch the “L” (no one called it “lean” until the mid-Womackian period, anyway) and ditch the “SS” (so named by Motorola). Instead, go to the principles and think anew.

And where’s a good source for these principles? Well, as usual, I defer to the Shingo Model for a cogent compilation and presentation of “Principles of Operational Excellence.”

  • Lead with humility,
  • Respect every individual,
  • Focus on process,
  • Embrace scientific thinking,
  • Flow and pull value,
  • Assure quality at the source,
  • Seek perfection,
  • Create constancy of purpose,
  • Think systemically, and
  • Create value for the customer.

No, you can’t effectively serve two masters. So, define ONE that embodies and satisfies the principles. Then rigorously align the organization, live the principles and watch the enterprise thrive.

Related posts: Don’t Blindly Copy the TPS House. Build Your Own., Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

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Lean Behaviors Prompted by Transparency, Scarceness and Accountability

People behave differently when there is transparency, scarceness and accountability. For example, there can definitely be a different dynamic at an open bar where no one knows you (or really cares) and a cash bar at a function amongst august colleagues. I’m guessing most of you know what I mean.

Lean behaviors can often be facilitated by the same stuff. A group that I have been working with has implemented a simple, yet powerful improvement idea that illustrates this phenomena within their low volume, high mix business.  The improvement was instituted to help gain and maintain stability within their mixed model production kanban system. It also provides insight into the root causes that drive some of that instability.

It seems that representatives of the various downstream customers of the in-process kanban (no batch production in the upstream process, the kanban are satisfied in a FIFO manner) were frequently seeking to  move a given kanban to the head of the line…mostly because of their own mismanagement and other barriers. The reshuffle requests were as many as three per shift. It was like an open bar.

Leadership implemented a “passport” system. It’s not really novel, others have applied it. But, it works!

Basically, each of the four consuming departments (with many multiple cells) that are downstream of the kanban are limited to three weekly passes that they can exercise. Each pass entitles the user the opportunity to reshuffle one of the kanbans within the sequence. So, there are rules and there is a finite number of opportunities. No free-for-all here.

There is also also accountability and transparency. The unused passes are hung at a station near the supplying process’ production coordinator workstation. Triggered or used passes are inserted into a locked  lexan box so you can see who has been exercising their passes – the name of the downstream department’s production coordinator is printed on their respective passes. See the picture, below.

Oh, and not all passes are the same. They come with different levels of escalation and, perhaps, pain. The first pass is green in color – essentially a “freebie” that can be used for one priority reshuffle. The second pass is yellow in color and requires the supplying department’s manager to sign-off on the pass. This means that a conversation has to occur…with an explanation as to why the pass needs to be triggered. The third pass is red in color and needs the plant manager’s sign-off for it to be accepted. Few folks want to have that conversation – especially if the root cause is/was within their control.

Guess what? The operation is down to about three kanban priority moves per week and a lot less  volatility. The system works a heck of a lot better now. Transparency, scarceness and accountability have changed behaviors and provided further insight into other improvement opportunities.

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Guest Post: Beyond Toast Kaizen – Lean Breakfast Concepts, Circa 1937

I was in Boston this weekend with my wife and we were told the best place for breakfast was Paramount’s. As we waited in line to order food, I noticed their sign told us to “Please Order and Pay before being seated”.  They claimed not saving a table “ensures all customers will have a table when needed” and although “it may seem hard to believe, it’s been working well since 1937”. Like much in lean this seemed counterintuitive. I decided to do a few time observations while we waited in line. Fortunately, my wife puts up with my curiosity.

Customers came out of the breakfast line and cashier every 90 seconds. So, customers needed a table every 90 seconds (Takt Time). I watched several tables that were filled before we sat down and the time to eat was about 18 minutes. (This is not the type of place where you bring the paper and the server keeps filling your coffee. )

If customers were sitting down at a table every 90 seconds and it takes 18 minutes to eat, the restaurant would need 12 tables to balance the seating capacity with customer requirements (Cycle Time/Takt Time). The restaurant has 14 tables. So, the overall system Cycle Time (think “drop off rate”) was less than Takt Time. I convinced myself, and my wife, why their seating policy worked.

I am confident that Paramount’s system works and that now…and in the future, we will not have to save a table. One should always be available (assuming no substantial change in Takt Time). I wonder if when they started in 1937 they fully understood why it worked. Oh well, perhaps all that really matters is that their breakfast is outstanding and customers keep returning.

John Rizzo authored this blog post. He is a fellow Lean Six Sigma implementation consultant and friend of Mark Hamel. John also enjoys a good breakfast!

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