Archive for June, 2010

Of Team Size, Social Loafing and Lack of Direction

Maximilian Ringelmann was a 19th century French agricultural engineer. I’m guessing there’s not too many of those around right now – both from the engineering discipline and  country of origin perspective. Anyway, Ringelmann discovered that as more folks pulled on a rope, more force is exerted. However, the increase on the force is NOT commensurate. Maximilian measured a type of “social loafing” – the individual, per capita effort lessens as people are added.

As we select teams for continuous improvement activity, we must be mindful of the team size. Large teams, more than eight or so, increase the probability of two types of team muda: 1) social loafing, and 2) lack of direction. Social loafing, or the Ringelmann effect, reflects the inclination of participants to slack and hide…because they can.

If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, the size of the team is too large. – Jeff Bezos, Chairman, CEO and Founder of

Lack of direction can befall team members who outstrip, because of sheer number or perhaps industriousness, the aligning and facilitating capabilities of team leaders and coaches. (Here, we’re not talking about problems that are generated by ineffective team leaders and facilitators.) We know that kaizen activity – the identification of opportunities, the countermeasures identified and assigned, the learnings and adjustments that occur throughout the trystorming process, etc. can make the process a little less than orderly and predictable. Added to that chaos factor, if the team is too large, team members are  more likely to experience the waste of:

  • Waiting. Nothing like hanging around for someone to assign another task for you after you just knocked off a countermeasure.
  • Over-processing and over-production. Virtually all participants want to do value-added work. So, if there is an absence of direction (and alignment), there’s a decent chance they’ll do something, perhaps more than is required (scope creep!!) or do it prematurely – like developing visual controls before the “system” is defined, which can lead to…
  • Defects. Redoing stuff when it’s not part of the normal PDCA cycle is demoralizing. Sometimes it does not require rework, but rather scrapping – like when two people or sub-teams end up doing duplicate work. Not good.
  • Opportunity. Well executed kaizen is an opportunity for folks to improve the business. It’s also equally about improving the worker’s PDCA skill-sets and developing a lean culture. When teams are too large and they suffer the above described dynamics, we end up squandering these transformative opportunities. We then give people a good reason to call into question our competency and credibility as lean leaders.

So, how do we avoid the Ringelmann effect and the lack of direction trap? First, don’t pick a team that is too large… and always employ effective pre-planning (inclusive of clarity in scope, measurable targets, best practice team selection, required pre-work, a solid initial strategy, etc.), proven work strategies (prioritization of countermeasures, assignment, frequent status checks, etc.), promote and enforce proper team behaviors (focus, shared leadership, candor, bias for action, etc.), all while empowering the team members to figure out much of the “how” (as long as it’s consistent with lean principles) and providing them with the necessary encouragement, training and resources.

When a large team is required either by virtue of the scope/work that needs to be done or the need for multi-level and cross-functional representation, then (after you’ve decided that you can’t reduce the scope), consider the opportunities for sub-teams, load up the team with folks who have strong kaizen experience, ensure that you’ve got an ace team leader and facilitator and make sure that you’ve done a heck of a pre-planning job.

I’m sure I missed some things. What do you think?

Related post: Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed

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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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“Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”

Mark Graban has been gracious enough to allow me to guest blog on his LeanBlog – probably the granddaddy of all lean blogs. I hope  that you find my post on PDCA value-added. I know what you’re thinking, “PDCA…again?!?” But, there’s at least a little bit of new insight here. Plus, you may be curious about the connection between lean and Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi…

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

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How to Audit a Lean Management System

The lean management system (LMS) is an integral part of an effective lean business system. It’s critical to the development of a lean culture and the sustainability of hard-earned improvements. In simple terms, it is really hard to live SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) without it.

So, how can you quickly tell whether or not an organization’s LMS  (not to mention its lean effort) is the real deal or not? Well, no surprise – you audit it!

A well-developed LMS is, by its very nature, easily audited. And lean leaders should make it a point to do this on a routine basis. Here’s some quick and simple ways:

  • Leader standard work. Review samples of recently completed leader standard work. Check them for completeness, recurring issues and problems, and evidence of good lean thinking in determining countermeasures. And, oh by the way, if there aren’t any (or many) abnormal conditions identified, look at that with some professional skepticism. As the saying goes, “no problem is a big problem.”
  • Gemba walk. Walk the gemba with leader standard work in hand to determine its sufficiency and to observe, firsthand, the state of the gemba. When a senior leader conducts a gemba walk with his team, tag along. Observe whether they follow gemba walk standard work relative to attendees, timing, path, audit points and criteria, rotating “deep dives,” conclusion/reflection and countermeasures. Assess the thinking, understanding, participation, sense of urgency, evidence of improvement(s), coaching, chastising, questions, answers, etc.
  • Daily accountability meetings. Attend tiered meetings to determine the sufficiency of and adherence to the standard meeting agenda, while also assessing the level of the leader and the team’s engagement, understanding, lean thinking and real countermeasures, both immediate and planned.
  • Tiered meeting boards. Review the various supporting visual boards to assess the actionability, relevancy, timeliness of the performance measures and their trends. Also, check the type and status of the assigned countermeasures and employee suggestion activity, among other things.

A solid lean management system is “well-wired.” A lean leader should be able to quickly audit and discern whether the team, plant, division, office, etc. is practicing fake lean or is really and genuinely leaning forward.

Related posts: “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Without Defined Criteria, (Almost) Everything Looks Good

Whenever we undertake the (re)design or (re)development of a process, product, system, layout, tool, visual control, etc. (you get the point), it’s usually a good idea to define the criteria for the future state FIRST. The definition must extend to measurable performance or outputs – like cost, quality, lead time, etc. Similarly, the criteria should also extend to the characteristics, the “whats” and “hows,” of the future state. For example, we may determine that the new layout has to, among other things, facilitate visual management and natural work team co-location.

Without this clarity around performance and characteristics, it is difficult to understand “what good looks like.” We need to start with the end in mind. It’s part of the P, within PDCA. Absent clarity, an individual, team or organization is at risk of ginning up some options and then justifying later why one or more is good. This approach is not acceptable…unless of course it’s around something very trivial, like ordering lunch.

Furthermore, especially in a team environment, if the criteria are not articulated in a public and visual way (flipcharts, Post-It notes, whiteboards, etc.), there is no way for the team to discuss,  test, debate and reach consensus on those criteria and ultimately share and own the vision. Just think if we asked a team to go ahead and design a dream house without a shared vision. Without any definition, one person would be envisioning a mountain top retreat, another a beach side mansion, another a richly appointed brownstone in the city…

So, how do we go about defining what good looks like? If we’re talking new products, there are a host of lean design tools that can be applied individually or systematically, including: quality function deployment, must/should/could prioritization and the “seven-alternatives” process (a technique of 3P). Ron Mascitelli’s work, The Lean Design Guidebook is an outstanding reference in this area.

Keep in mind that the level of effort we invest in the process of articulating design criteria should match the importance of the task at hand, related risk and how pragmatically we can take something subjective  and make it quantitative. So, for example, if we are doing a quick seven different ways application for the design of a pacemaker scheduling system in a mixed model environment with demand coming from both a supermarket (make-to-stock replenishment) and make-to-order kanban, the criteria may include: visually controlled, kanban cards as visual artifacts, maintained by group leader, reflect status of required changeovers, etc.  This criteria will probably be sufficient for a team to pursue the seven different ways,  make trade-offs, down-select to three or so for trystorming and eventually and quickly converge on one best way (for now).

We can get fancier with Pugh Methods, weighted averages and the like. The important thing is to match the intensity to the challenge and to never violate the principle of first articulating the criteria. If we don’t follow that principle, we’re doomed to unthinkingly creating something and then putting lipstick on it later. Heck, then we could move to D.C.!

Related post: Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

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Musings About FIFO Lane Sizing “Math”

First in, first out (FIFO) lanes are the core of sequential pull. When properly sized, constructed and managed they ensure process and conveyance sequence, provide a buffer to facilitate flow during upstream changeovers, chronic failures, etc., and guard against overproduction. FIFO lanes, among other things, must reflect a maximum level of inventory – number of parts or pieces or total work content (minutes, hours, or days). Without enforced maximum levels the upstream process may produce more or faster than the downstream process can routinely consume.

So, how do you size your FIFO lane? There’s different levels of math that can be thrown at it. Often folks apply some pretty rudimentary thinking, especially initially if they’re in the midst of value stream analysis. Generically, the equation is:

FIFO lane max = desired lead time/takt time (TT)

Of course, then you have to get into the definition of desired lead time. In a perfect world it would be zero, but very few value streams are perfect. In fact the reason we typically use a FIFO lane is that we cannot connect the upstream and downstream process via continuous flow (or supermarket pull, for that matter). So, there obviously are barriers to continuous flow (and pull) – like those pesky changeovers, cycle time mismatches between upstream and downstream, process instability, shelf-life considerations, cure times, shared processes, etc. We must always try to eliminate the barriers, but in the meantime, we often need to live with sequential pull.

…Anyway, back to desired lead time. Below are a handful of possible equations that can be applied. Admittedly, they are not failsafe, but they do prompt some necessary thinking. Like kanban sizing math (often much more complicated), these are principle-based and should be tested out and adjusted as necessary first through table-top simulations and again after real-life piloting and forever, really. You can definitely get carried away calculating factors of safety, applying standard deviation driven coefficients to address variation and the like. I’ll leave that for another time. For now, here are a handful of equations that may be helpful.

If we’re talking cure time, for example:

  • FIFO lane max = (cure time/TT) X factor of safety (i.e., to address cure time variation and/or upstream stability issues)

If the issue is shelf life, it can be:

  • FIFO lane max = (shelf life/TT) – factor of safety (it makes sense to have margin here)

If the upstream operation has significant set-up time and thus there is a risk that it may “starve” the downstream, then the calculation may look something like:

  • FIFO lane max = (Upstream internal set-up time/TT) X factor of safety

The same type of thinking can be applied if the upstream process is shared (i.e., supplying other value streams). Here we may need insight into the “every part every interval” and translate it into an every line every interval (ELEI…just made that one up) thing. The equation may then be:

  • FIFO lane max = (ELEI/downstream TT) X factor of safety

If the upstream operation has substantial and chronic failures (i.e., unplanned downtime), and frankly this issue is probably implicit within most factors of safety referenced above, then you may want to consider something like:

  • FIFO lane max = (average upstream unplanned downtime event/TT) X factor of safety (to address unplanned downtime duration variation and/or time between unplanned downtime events)

Within a mixed model value stream, sometimes the cycle time (CT) of the downstream process is greater than the upstream CT for some models. (Of course, the average weighted CT of the downstream process is less than or equal to the average weighted CT of the upstream process.) In that situation, the math may look something like:

  • FIFO lane max = ((longest downstream CT – TT) X batch volume for longest CT item)/TT

I am sure there is other (and better) math out there. Please share your expertise here!

Of course, lean practitioners aren’t only concerned about the maximum levels. When we exceed maximum levels, we definitely have an abnormal condition that requires real time response. But what about when the FIFO lane has dwindled, when do we signal an abnormal condition? Obviously, when the FIFO lane is empty; but that’s a bit late. This is where we can, for example, use the factor of safety (divided by TT) to help calculate the “red zone.” And there are other conventions that can be used. For another time…

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Management Improvement Carnival #99

Gemba Tales is proud to host the 99th edition of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Carnival. Curious Cat’s founder John Hunter facilitates this sharing of lean thought provoking posts thrice monthly.

In order to select a cross-section of great blog posts from the last several weeks, I scanned through both Mark Graban’s prodigious blogroll and mine (not so prodigious). Consequently, I read a lot and learned a lot. My only regret is that I could not pick a post from every worthy blogger.

Nevertheless, I trust that you will enjoy the posts. They effectively challenge conventional thinking and they end with a post from new dad (congratulations!), Brian Buck who definitely shares the voice of the customer and reinforces the need for lean healthcare. Hope you enjoy these. Cheers.

  • Does “Lean” Become Self Perpetuating? by Steven J. Spear – “…‘Lean’ never becomes self sustaining.  Never ever ever.  No way, no how.  It simply cannot.”
  • Everyone Is Responsible for Their Systems by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “…I believe we (meaning lean thinkers) send blame up the organizational chart too far, as a natural reaction to too much blame being pushed down on people in traditional organizations.”
  • Fake Lean and the Spotting Thereof by Jon Miller – “…While lean is journey of continuous improvement and there is no such thing as arriving at state where we can say ‘we are lean’ there are plenty of false paths, dead ends and wilderness areas on this journey that we can label ‘fake lean’.”
  • Inefficiency through Default Meeting Times by Tim McMahon – “…Who decided meetings should be 30 or 60 minutes?”
  • New Book Gives Negative Review to Performance Reviews by Mark Graban – “…Yes, there are alternatives to the annual review. As Dr. Deming might have said, we invented that practice (and we invented management) so we can change it.”
  • People Cannot Multitask by John Hunter – “…People think they are multi-tasking but in fact they are just doing 4 tasks serially switching back and forth between them. Which slows them down and increases the odds of forgetting something.”
  • Stealing Monkeys by Bryan Lund –  “No, I’m not going to steal your pet chimp, but it is often tempting and easy to “steal a monkey” from people while in the genba…”
  • The Downside of Automation by Dan Markovitz – “…When I see companies leaping at technological solutions for time and attention management, I have a feeling that they’re in for a big disappointment.”
  • More Committed than Ever by Brian Buck – “I am now back from my wonderful 4.5 weeks of paternity leave and am more committed than ever to help hospitals become lean.”