Archive for May, 2010

Show Your Work

Remember back when your math teacher told you to “show your work“? There were good reasons for that, not the least of which was the fact that your teacher wanted to know if you were thinking, what you were thinking, and how you were thinking. The teacher wanted insight into whether you were grasping the concepts…and not just dropping a number or two on the paper. Ostensibly, showing your work assists in the learning process. It also keeps the student honest and should help them determine themselves whether their “logic” holds water.

The same holds true in business and continuous improvement. Kaizen activity rigorously employs PDCA. The “P” within PDCA represents the act of planning, which is founded upon a rather firm understanding of the current reality. The current reality, when compared (implicitly or explicitly) to an envisioned leaner state, should manifest the gaps, problems, issues and opportunities. From this perspective, the lean practitioner can then move on and gain an understanding of the root causes and ultimately a “plan” as embodied in countermeasures. Do, check and act appropriately follow.

So, how do you show your work within the plan phase? Put another way, how do you understand the pre-kaizen situation? There are AT LEAST ten basic waste identification tools and eight basic root cause analysis and supporting tools.

Waste Identification Tools:

  1. Current state value stream map
  2. Process map
  3. 5S audit sheet
  4. Time observation form
  5. Standard work sheet
  6. Standard work combination sheet
  7. % Load chart
  8. Process capacity sheet
  9. Setup observation analysis work sheet
  10. Operations analysis table

Basic Root Cause Analysis and Supporting Tools:

  1. 5 Whys
  2. Cause and effect diagrams
  3. Check sheets
  4. Concentration diagrams
  5. Scatter diagrams
  6. Histograms
  7. Pareto charts
  8. Process failure modes and effects analysis

These  different tools, to which we can certainly add the left side of the A3 form, are part of the work of the planning process. They help facilitate the process of grasping the current reality and identifying root causes. They hone the practitioner’s thinking, shares his thinking, engages others in the process, invites constructive feedback, etc…and forces him to show his work, not only for his benefit, but also for the benefit of other lean learners. No cause jumping. No sloppy shortcuts.

So, just like in school, if you don’t show your work, you should get points taken off!

Related posts: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, The Truth Will Set You Free!

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Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back

Ritsuo Shingo, son of the great Shigeo Shingo, gave a keynote address during the 22nd annual International Shingo Conference this past week. And I know what you might be thinking – does Ritsuo know anything about lean or is he just the son of a lean icon? Both. He’s the real deal, former President, Toyota China and Hino Motors, China, among other things.

Mr. Shingo spoke on management. As one might expect, he also discussed continuous improvement. One of his lessons within that subject was “show them your back.” This is a metaphor for, “be a leader, not only in word, but in deed.”

Ritsuo, clearly a humble man, provided some personal examples of how he did just that during some start up activity in China. In order to set the tone, without beating anyone about the head regarding cost management, for example, Mr. Shingo opted for a used car and used office furniture. It’s pretty hard for your subordinates to go out and buy new stuff, when the leader has not. No words here, just action. This reminds me of the quote that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century founder of the Franciscan order, preacher and mystic, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

While our gospel (meaning “good news”) is more about lean thinking and doing, this notion certainly makes sense. Which reminds me of another story as recounted in the Productivity Press book, The Shift to JIT. In August 1987 Taimei Takazaki, president of Akita Shindengen (semiconductor manufacturer), began to do all of his work standing up. As he did, eventually virtually all (even administration and support) within the company did the same. We know seated operations often are barriers to continuous flow. Standing operations are usually a great facilitator of flow – eliminating isolated islands and thus enabling multi-process operations, better work content balance among operators, etc. I myself used a stand desk years ago for the same leadership purpose.

There are many other similar examples – leaders following and posting their own leader standard work, spending time at the gemba, participating in kaizen activities, maintaining 5S in their office, applying PDCA checkpoint rigor to strategy deployment, moving offices to the gemba, eschewing cozy offices with doors and all the trappings for short-walled cubicles adjoining their teammates, eliminating executive parking spots, etc. It’s all part of showing your back. That’s a lot more compelling than the old, “do as I say, not as I do!”

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

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The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover

Let’s set the stage. The team has just completed what many call a flow kaizen – in which the focus is the flow of materials, patients, customers, etc. and information. Hopefully, the team has generated certain outputs, including a current and future state value stream map and the all important value stream improvement plan (VSIP).

We know that the value stream analysis isn’t about making pretty maps and plans. It’s about defining, at about a 20,000 foot altitude and 80% accuracy, a future state for a specific date (typically 6 or 12 months out or so) and the roadmap for getting there. The roadmap is the VSIP (think Gantt chart plus) and it should be comprised of specific kaizen events, projects and “just-do-its.”

Often, sometime after the flow kaizen report-out, the hangover kicks in. It might not be instantaneous. Heck, it might take weeks or months to manifest itself. But, when it does come, it lasts a lot longer than the hangover induced by drinking too many adult beverages.

So, if you think that you’ve never experienced the hangover, let me explain some of the symptoms. They might ring a bell.

Amnesia. As in who am I, how did I get here and what the heck am I supposed to do? These are questions often expressed by the value stream manager. Too often this person is “anointed” sometime during the actual value stream analysis. You know, when leadership finally figures out that this value stream analysis seems like a pretty big deal and the book or the coach says that we should have a value stream manager. This manager is typically a line person with ownership of a portion of the value stream (but often not the whole thing). Their job is to drive VSIP execution and make the future state map a reality. No small task. It’s a really good idea for the executive lean leaders to carefully select the value stream manager BEFORE the value stream analysis based upon certain core (think change management, focus and accountability, etc.) and technical competencies (some level of lean expertise, process knowledge, project management skills, etc.). The value stream manager will also need coaching, resources and support (including the steering committee).

Apathy. Question: If you ignore the VSIP, does it execute itself? Answer: No! The value stream manager and other lean leaders need to apply at least monthly checkpoints and other rigor to ensure that the accountable folks (yes, the VSIP has to have names and dates) are getting the right stuff done at the right time. Will the VSIP need to be retooled because you didn’t know what you didn’t know when you developed it? Yes! So you have to be flexible, but dogged. And you’ll have to deal with human resource development issues along with the technical.

Confusion and Disorientation. This symptom really kicks in when the value stream analysis was not performed well or thoroughly. For example, it’s not rare for folks to map more than one product or service family on one map (confusing!), blow off the time ladder, rolled throughput line, data boxes, and/or VSIP, post fuzzy, ill-defined kaizen bursts, develop a future state map that’s really not very lean, not anticipate the best sequence of activities within the VSIP, not assign owners to the VSIP elements, etc. You get the picture. It’s like drinking lots of bad tequila AND eating the worm.

Fixation. Sometimes the organization will become fixated with the VSIP, put their head down and just execute it. It may not sound like a bad thing, but the lean leaders must also be cognizant of the outputs…as in we’re executing to drive the numbers (compress lead times, increase rolled throughput yield, etc.) It’s a “both and” type of thing. Often it makes sense to use bowling charts to help people also focus on the numbers.

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? I’m sure that I’m missing some. Feel free to share your experiences. Remember, value stream map responsibly.

Related posts: Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters, Value (Stream) Delivery – What about the family?


“So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

It’s not quite on par with the 5 whys (heck, that’s five questions, more or less), but “so what?” isn’t far behind. It’s a question that begs closure, as in, “what are we going to do about that?”

Lean can be summarized partly as: 1) find a problem, 2) fix a problem, 3) keep it from coming back, 4) repeat. How can you fix a problem if you don’t deal with it or don’t understand the situation well enough to even know if there is a problem? “So what?” should be generously applied whenever we assess the current reality.

An Example “So What?” Forum

The daily accountability process, part of a robust lean management system, includes daily tiered meetings. Those brief stand-up meetings typically require, among other things, the review of a handful of key performance metrics as well as issues and barriers that have surfaced over the last 24 hours.

The “so what?” litmus test can be applied to tiered meetings, beginning with the effort to establish the very performance metrics that serve as a critical backdrop for the daily accountability process. We can start the questioning around metric relevancy and move on from there…as in what does it mean to the stakeholders, what is the linkage to the business’ strategic imperatives, what does that performance metric graph mean, how do we interpret it, is it actionable, what do those trends mean, are we getting better, getting worse, or staying the same, how are we doing relative to the target…in fact, where is the target!? In other words, “so what?” Implicitly, this is followed by, “now what?” Often, we need to reassess the utility of the performance metrics and retool them so that they drive the right lean thinking and behaviors.

Same goes with the narrative around tiered meetings once they become part of the fabric of daily operation. When an issue is identified, for example, “that’s the third time this week that machine X has experienced unplanned downtime,” or “the call abandon rate has exceeded the target every Monday for the last three weeks,” we can’t ignore it. So frequently, we end up reporting the news, collectively agree it’s a bad thing, offer some weak commentary, then move onto the next subject. Guess what? That problem is going to come back again unless we drive to the, “so what?”…and then do something about it.

Leadership is a shared responsibility, but if no one else asks, “so what?” the lean leader of the tiered meeting has got to ask it. Unrelentingly…until it comes to a head, until a countermeasure has been identified, with a due date and an accountable person assigned. This is where the daily task accountability board, another part of the daily accountability process,  get’s its use. The board captures the actionable answers to the “so what?” question and serves as a visual for assigned countermeasures and their status.

“So what?” is not the same sassy question that we threw around in grade school. Rather, it’s a thoughtful question that’s founded in a bias for action. So, “so what?”

Related post: Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, The Truth Will Set You Free!

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Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings

Kaizen opportunities are often best identified (and done) by those who do the work. This is critical if you’re trying to create and sustain a kaizen culture. That said, I usually try to avoid much in the way of lean implementation within my house and amongst my family. Not that I really enjoy all of the typical familial chaos and related muda, but, as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry once said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

Now, my wife is the predominant laundry person in our house. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I could lie and say it’s not like that. Sometimes I’ll do some loads, sometimes my three kids…but, that’s an abnormal condition! And, I really don’t want to talk about folding laundry. Really guilty there.

Today, Mother’s Day, my wife mentioned that having the dryer door hung on the left side of the dryer was a pain in the neck. I looked at it, with newly opened eyes, and could instantly understand the waste of motion that the door’s orientation induced. You have to remove the wet laundry from the washing machine and then lift it OVER the dryer door and THEN place it inside the dryer. Meanwhile wet socks are hitting the deck and accumulating dog hair and horse hair (no, there’s no horse inside the house). Wonderful!

I’ve had to endure that same waste, but I just turned my brain off and assumed that doing laundry was a pain the neck, because it was …a pain in the neck. If I was in lean coach or sensei mode, this would have been so obvious! Pretty lame on my part. I’ve become a domestic “concrete head.”

So, I quickly took my wife’s suggestion (no formal suggestion board here) and switched the door. Daily kaizen (at least the first one) in the laundry room! Less than 10 minutes to make it happen. Glad she’s the brains in (and heart and soul of) the family.

Now that I have shared this little story with you, I can’t help but thinking that I may be considered the new Bruce Hamilton of laundry. During Bruce’s hugely popular Toast Kaizen video, specifically the pre-kaizen condition, he’s waiting for the toast to toast, while the dirty dishes just sit there in the sink. The video observers (especially the females) often voice their displeasure with such a blatant display of sloth. Of course, Bruce gets his act together in the post-kaizen condition (here we won’t discuss the hygiene opportunities). I just want you to know – I’m a good dish guy! But, I definitely need to carry more of the load (no pun intended) on the laundry front.


Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work.

Today’s Wall Street Journal front page contained an article entitled, “Moment of Truth for Productivity Boom.” The article reflected on the fact that US productivity in Q4 of 2009 rose 5.8% – a perhaps unprecedented level of growth through a recession. So, one question is whether the largest portion of the gains came from, “hustle or brains.” It appears that employees who are fearful about job security may hustle a bit more than those who are not fearful. No kidding.

We know that fear can be a substantial motivator, but as the recession relents, it is not sustainable. That’s a good thing!

Lean is largely about the elimination of waste (think PDCA) and the standardization of improvements (SDCA). This notion includes standard work (a.k.a. standardized work) which is the best practice for a given process that is dependent upon human action. It provides a routine for consistency, relative to safety, quality, cost, and delivery, and serves as basis for improvement. Standard work is comprised of three basic elements: 1) takt time (and its relationship with cycle time), 2) work sequence, and 3) standard work-in-process.

Standard work is NOT developed to accommodate only those genetically superior, well rested, 99th percentile workers…or those who are so scared they’ll push themselves to exhaustion and perhaps injury and defects. That is not consistent with the lean principle of respect for the individual or the integration of improvement with work, for that matter.

The expectation is that standard work should reflect a steady, most repeatable, least waste way of working that also ensures safety and quality (one of the reasons you’ll see safety crosses and quality diamonds on standard worksheets). Of course, that’s not to say that the application of standard work, over and above the elimination of waste and the introduction of good technology, by it’s very prescriptive nature of steps, sequence, standard work, cycle times, etc. does not improve productivity. It does, and if people tend not to expect to work when they’re at work, then they may be in for a surprise. We should respect people enough that we expect them to work during working hours.

So, here’s to working smarter…and working!

Related post: Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes

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Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

Several days ago, during a health care value stream analysis, I was impressed with the team’s bias for action. Now we know that value stream mapping is typically a “paper” activity, but it was refreshing to see that one of the future state’s kaizen bursts, identified as a “just-do-it,” couldn’t wait. The team completed the just-do-it right before the wrap-up presentation. Outstanding!

Kaizen is founded on certain principles, one of which is a bias for action. This bias for action is largely a behavioral thing, but it can be facilitated by effective coaching, formal training, and the application of lean management systems and related visual controls that should absolutely scream for action.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning my “short list” of kaizen principles (see the Kaizen Event Fieldbook), because I think we need to have a holistic perspective and because together they should drive the right kind of bias for action. I call this my 10 + 1 list. I’m pretty sure that other lean practitioners can make some  great arguments for a few more, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short.

  1. Think PDCA and SDCA, the basic scientific methods.
  2. Go to the gemba; observe and document reality.
  3. Ask “why?” five times to identify root causes.
  4. Be dissatisfied with the status quo.
  5. Kaizen what matters.
  6. Have a bias for action.
  7. Frequent, small incremental improvements drive big, sustainable improvements.
  8. Be like MacGyver; use creativity before capital.
  9. Kaizen is everyone’s job.
  10. No transformation without transformation leadership.

Plus – Do everything with humility and respect for the individual.

The combined dissatisfaction with the status quo (eyes for waste  “see” the current state and the ideal state) and the existence of explicit performance gaps that are targeted for closure (kaizen what matters) should be unbearable enough to drive action. And, our action should be focused on appropriately and economically (MacGyver was a creative cheapskate) addressing the root causes (5 why’s and PDCA thinking) and then sustaining the performance (SDCA).

So, I’ll leave you with another bias for action story, surprisingly also within a value stream analysis backdrop. Tony, the plant manager, was participating in a combined value stream analysis/plant lay-out/3P activity for a brand new line. As we developed pro forma standard work and were doing table top and plant floor simulations applying, among other things continuous flow, he had a eureka moment. Actually, I noticed that he was becoming quite agitated and then…he disappeared. Over an hour later, Tony returned. He informed the team that he couldn’t stand it when he realized that the same principles needed to be applied to existing lines. So, right away, he made sure that the other lines (granted, without standard work at the time) stop their evil batch and queue ways and go to single piece flow. By the next day, the old lines had demonstrated an 18% productivity improvement (and yes, this was sustained). Now, that’s bias for action!

Related posts: Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, Kaizen Principle: Be Like MacGyver, Use Creativity before Capital!

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