Archive for April, 2010

Standard Work Is a Verb

Standard work is not a once and done proposition. That would be lean anathema. In fact, the Shingo Prize Model reflects a lean principle (one of ten) called “integration of improvement with work.” We don’t stop working, why would we stop improving?

This dynamic is consistent with the evolution from system-driven kaizen to principle-driven kaizen. System-driven kaizen is represented mostly by kaizen events as pulled by value stream improvement plans. Really good stuff, but it can and should get better.

Principle-driven kaizen is system-driven PLUS the integration of daily kaizen. Daily kaizen, as defined in my Kaizen Event Fieldbook is, “small, process- or point-focused, continuous improvement that is conducted by engaged and enabled employees in their everyday work… Daily kaizen opportunities (problems) are readily identified by workers using simple robust lean management systems and by a pragmatic comparison of the current state with the envisioned ideal state. By applying common sense and learning developed in kaizen events, training classes and direct application, employees, as individuals and within teams, engage in PDCA through the use/execution of actionable, low bureaucracy suggestion systems, mini-kaizen events, kaizen circle activities, ‘just-do-its’ and the like.” OK, it’s a really long-winded definition!

While standard work is often initially developed within the context of a kaizen event, it can’t stop there. As employees adopt PDCA thinking and learn to become experimentalists, they will/should continuously improve the standard work. Truly, when the culture becomes principle-driven, people feel happily compelled to improve their processes and thus the standard work.

So, think of standard work more as a verb and less as a noun. Next time when you’re at the gemba, take note of the revision date of the standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets. If they haven’t been updated and improved over the last quarter or two, then you might have an issue. There’s a good chance that you’ve never left the land of system-driven kaizen.

Related post: There Is No Kaizen Bus Stop!

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Mark Hamel Interviewed by Business901’s Joe Dager

Joe Dager, an expert in lean marketing and founder of the Business901 blog, was gracious (and perhaps crazy?) enough to interview me last week. The interview is captured in a podcast and covers my SME published book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events.

Joe asked many excellent questions about how to sustain kaizen event gains…and hopefully, I provided some value-added answers and insight. We covered, among other things, topics like lean management systems and the specifics of leader standard work as well as the multi-phase kaizen event approach.

Please check out the podcast and Business 901’s social media release here.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel,Kaizen Event Supplies – Basic Stuff for Effective Events, Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – 11 Questions for Lean Leaders, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – Part II

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Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?

dirt picThe word humility is derived from the Latin word for ground, humus. The notion of ground, earth or dirt makes sense in that humility is a virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself or herself.

This virtue is a good thing and is especially appropriate in lean. In fact, humility is considered a lean principle. Within the Shingo Prize Transformation Model’s “cultural enabler” dimension, it is paired with “respect for the individual.” No surprise there because humility helps people recognize their creaturely equality with others.

Now, before someone says that humility isn’t becoming of a lean leader, humility does not mean that someone cannot be strong, resolute and demanding. Humility does not mean self-abasement or timidity. No, not at all. No doormats here.

Humility is a necessary foundation for continuous improvement, because it is founded upon a recognition of the truth  about the self and, by extension, the organization. Here’s a few humble observations of my own:

  • People who are not humble don’t want to hear anything about their personal or their empire’s  failures or “flat sides.” Humble people see problems or shortcomings as opportunities and use them as feedstock for personal or organizational PDCA.
  • The proud often personalize issues,  “Hey, that idiot so and so, didn’t…” Humble people tend to focus on the 5 why’s rather than the 5 who’s. They attack the process, not the person.
  • Those who are not humble often feel (or at least seek to appear) that they have nothing to learn. Humble folk embrace learning opportunities through experience and that which is shared by others. They return the favor by formally and informally mentoring others.
  • Proud leaders “know” what the problems are and the root causes and they prescribe the countermeasures. Humble people go the gemba and directly observe the situation, often with co-workers and, using appropriate rigor, let the data lead them. They practice kaizen in a participative manner and encourage people to experiment in order to learn and to elevate the improvements.
  • Proud leaders dictate breakthrough objectives, strategic initiatives and the means to achieve the objectives. Humble leaders do not abrogate their responsibility for the outputs, but they use catchball to build consensus and ownership within the team and they use it to identify better, more pragmatic approaches.

I know that I’ve only scratched the surface. Nevertheless, the point here is that humility is critical to lean transformation success. Any organization that lacks this key principle lacks, whether purposefully or accidentally, truth…and that’s a tough place to start when you’re looking for improvement.

So, what are your thoughts?

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

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Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

model line picModel lines (a.k.a. pilot) are a proven method to initiate a lean launch. The model, typically one specific “line” or value stream within a single facility or operation, provides a small, focused and controlled playground for implementing lean. The pilot represents a low risk venue within which lean leaders can experiment, learn and (hopefully) successfully build a much leaner line or value stream. The effort  also provides valuable opportunities for showcasing what lean “looks” and “feels” like; an important element in the change management process.

Pilot lessons learned encompass the technical aspects of lean implementation from a tools, systems and deployment perspective, while providing critical insight into the necessary cultural and human resource requirements. The model line’s foundation must be built upon lean leader alignment and effective change management as well as a rigorously developed value stream improvement plan. Of course,  prudent pilot selection is absolutely essential. Selection criteria must include the potential impact of the pilot, strength of pilot leadership and implementation degree of difficulty (technical and cultural).

Once the model line has demonstrated elevated performance through the appropriate application of lean, then (after a formal checkpoint process) the organization will typically move to an initial deployment phase. Within this phase, the organization seeks to replicate the model to another line (same value stream/processes) either in the same facility (if there are multiple ones) or another facility. Here the organization applies the lessons learned from the pilot and begins to learn new ones relative to technical scalability and human resources issues (you can’t stack the team with your best players once you start having more than one team) while verifying the business impact.

Ultimately, after any related issues (and there will be plenty) have been successfully addressed, initial deployment transitions into full scale deployment. Full scale deployment expands the model to all lines/identical value streams throughout the organization. Here the company should enjoy the full business impact of what was tested out in the model line and have an excellent technical and cultural foundation for further lean deployment throughout other portions of the business.

Model lines are a thoughtful and measured method to deploy lean, or virtually any system for that matter. Perhaps the purveyors of health care reform should have made use of the concept…in fact, Massachusetts may be a pilot that offers some profound lessons learned.

What do you think?

Related post: Value (Stream) Delivery – What about the family?

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CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation

CSI picTaiichi Ohno preferred facts over data, meaning, among other things, that direct observation trumps second hand stuff. How else can you truly grasp the current situation and identify the waste?

Well, the fact of the matter is that direct observation is not always practical. Sometimes it needs to be supplemented with what I call forensic observation. For example, if we need to gain an understanding of the pre-kaizen situation for a REALLY long lead time process, say weeks or months or even years, it’s not very pragmatic to grab some time observation forms, stopwatches, spaghetti charts, etc. and…camp out.

No. Long lead time processes, such as bodily injury insurance claim evaluation or complex business proposal development, often should be subjected to the rigor of  process mapping. These process maps detail the historically and forensically based steps, hand-offs, rework, waiting, etc. as supported by emails, documents, system entries, recorded phone conversations and the like for specific, real-life claims, files, proposals, design projects and so on.

It’s a bit like CSI, but without real blood. It’s a pragmatic proxy for going to the gemba and it can be bolstered with true direct observation for specific steps within the process. For example, we can directly observe how design requirements are identified from the request for proposal (as part of the overall proposal generation process).

Now, this is not a license for dismissing direct observation (and it’s not a replacement for appropriate value stream analysis). But, given the right circumstances, forensic observation can be an appropriate way to apply gemba-based principles to your kaizen activity.

So, how have you applied forensic observation within your lean journey?

Related posts: The Truth Will Set You Free!, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes

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Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

trajectory picStrange name, “bowling chart,” but it’s a simple and powerful tool. It forces critical thinking around breakthrough objectives and facilitates typically monthly checkpoints that help drive accountability, PDCA and ultimately execution. When matched up with a Gantt chart (the combination is cleverly called a “bowling and Gantt chart”), it’s pretty cool stuff.

So, what’s a bowling chart? It’s essentially a matrix that, among other things:

  • reflects one or more metrics (i.e., productivity – parts/person/hour),
  • establishes a baseline or “jumping off point” (JOP) for each metric (i.e., 52 parts/person/hour),
  • ties the metric to a time-bounded target (i.e., 85 parts/person/hour by 10/31/2010),
  • interpolates the monthly targets (“plan”)  between the JOP and the final target,
  • easily and visually compares monthly performance (plan vs. actual) and highlights when a monthly period meets or beats the plan (shaded in green) and when it does not meet the plan (shaded in red), and
  • if lean leaders are doing their job, compels the “owner” of the chart and the related execution to generate a “get to green plan.” Think PDCA.

But the thing I would like to focus on right here is trajectory – the improvement path between the JOP and the final target. Many folks don’t even worry about the periods between these two points. This type of “focus” often produces the sames results as those experienced by high school students. Who cares about midterms…?

No interim targets, no chance for real PDCA. Think management time frame. Think pitch. The smaller the time frame, the more likely and quickly we will identify when we are drifting off target and the more responsive we can be in identifying root causes and applying effective countermeasures.

If your people are required to create bowling charts, whether it’s part of the strategy deployment process, A3 preparation or even value stream improvement plan creation, they have to think about trajectory. Improved performance is rarely linear. The bowling chart begs consideration of the implementation process, it’s timing and sustainability. Using the example introduced earlier, if the productivity improvement is expected to be largely driven by a kaizen event focused on standard work and continuous flow and that event isn’t happening until 2 months after the JOP, then the plan for the first two months after the JOP probably shouldn’t be too much different than the JOP.

The trajectory exercise is a good thing. It prompts deep thinking about implementation steps,  sequence, timing and impact. Talking trajectory with lean leaders and other stakeholders should facilitate some good “catchball” and help identify and address unreasonable expectations, timid expectations, resource shortfalls, etc.

So, oftentimes it’s not all about the destination, it’s also about the path…or the trajectory.

Related Post: Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

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Gemba Tales’ 90 Day Reflection

thinkerGemba Tales is now three months old (my first “real” post was made on December 28, 2009). So, I thought it appropriate to engage in a little reflection or hansei. But not too much, mind you. I don’t want to over-analyze anything when my blog is still so young and immature. I know that it takes much more than 90 days to build content and community. Slow and steady, as they say.

Lessons Learned

Here are some of my lessons learned, in no particular order:

  • Blogging ain’t easy. Sure anyone can develop a site (I opted for some professional help), but you still have to come up with posts that matter, that bring value…on a routine basis. Sometimes I think I add value and sometimes, not so much. And sometimes there are technical glitches, like when a broadcasting “plugin” generated multiple (like 9) emails to subscribers for the same post. That seems to be under control now. I am thankful that the Gemba Tales email subscribers are such an understanding bunch.
  • I actually LIKE blogging. My twice weekly posting frequency almost pushes me over the edge (like everyone else I burn the candle at both ends way too much), but I actually like blogging. Frankly, I wish I could do more.  I enjoy the interaction (there could be more – hint, hint!) and I enjoy the intellectual challenge to come up with some fairly cogent posts that add value for the members of the community. It makes me think and it makes me consider what others might benefit from as they progress in their lean implementation journey and as they seek to develop their own personal lean competency.
  • Spammers are a pox on humanity. I am constantly bombarded with comments that are at best stupid and at worst unprintable from folks who want to advertise their products or “services.” I guess spam is one of the hazards of blogging…
  • The lean community is awesome. Lean folks, by and large, live the principles of humility and respect for the individual…and then they go beyond. They share, they mentor and they encourage. I have benefited from the help of a number of first class people within the blogosphere. At the risk of omitting someone, here’s a list of some very cool folks:
    • Jamie Flinchbaugh – Jamie shared some advice on how to get started, made some comments on my early posts and included Gemba Tales in his excellent Lean Blog Aggregator.
    • Larry Loucka – Larry provided needed encouragement, advice and comments.
    • Ron Pereira – Ron was absolutely gracious. He profiled Gemba Tales on his LSS Academy blog and then invited me to guest post. Thanks, Ron.
    • John Hunter – John writes some real profound stuff on his Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog. It was an honor when he included me in several of  his “Management Improvement Carnivals.”
    • Brian Buck – Comments, link and inclusion in his “Roundup.”
    • Evan Durant – Comments, link and some advice to a total Twitter novice.
    • Tim McMahon – Comments and inclusion in his monthly “Roundup.”
Popular Posts

Some of my posts seemed to generate a fair amount of interest and others, well…I tried. Here’s a short list of some of the most popular posts among the 28 thus far.

Looking Forward – An Invitation

I definitely want this blog to add value, so I invite you to either comment on this particular post or email me directly (see the green question mark on the sidebar) and let me know what lean subjects are most meaningful for you. I promise that I will try to cover those areas in future posts or, if you desire, via email.

Thanks for the past 90 days!

Best regards,

Mark R. Hamel

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