Archive for November, 2010

The Power of Mapping

Mapping, whether it’s process mapping or value stream mapping can be powerful stuff. It should be a familiar and trusted weapon within your continuous improvement arsenal.

When mapping is deployed properly, right tool, right situation, it facilitates a handful of important team dynamics, including:

  • Physical engagement. Team members hang paper on the wall, record data on Post-It notes, position the Post-It notes, draw lines, figures, data, hang copies of documents, and hopefully, and most importantly, go to the gemba to directly observe reality. As one of my colleagues likes to say about facilitating teams, “Get ’em up, keep ’em moving.” If the blood does not move, the brain gets sluggish.
  • Shared understanding. Maps reflect a common visual language through the use of standard formats, icons, linkages and the like. Teams “see” the same thing, front and center, and can better confront differing perspectives, interpretations and concerns. This “billboard,” both during and after its creation,  should prompt effective discussion, closure and consensus. Try having different team members “read” the map to the team to see if it makes sense and to test the reader’s understanding.
  • Broader and appropriately deeper view. Rarely do folks have a substantive grasp of an entire value stream or a complex process. Mapping forces the team to flesh out the salient details of the target. Whether or not team members have the humility to admit it or not, there are typically more than a few “ah-ha” moments during the mapping experience. Better insight into the current condition, within the context of lean thinking, yields better results.
  • Dissatisfaction with the current state. Current state maps are typically ugly, both from a visually aesthetic perspective (hey, the goal is NOT to make a pretty map, it’s to understand and make meaningful improvements!) and from the perspective of the reality of the current state – where things don’t flow, where there’s multiple and unnecessary hand-offs, reversals, re-work, long queues, etc. This ugliness should prompt some serious dissatisfaction and hopefully, readiness to attack the future state.

So, while I strongly caution you against plugging any sort of electrical device through your map (as depicted in the picture – can you believe it?!), recognize that mapping brings power well beyond just the obvious. Yes,  the maps and related improvement plans are absolutely critical, but the mapping team dynamics and learned lean thinking are, in may ways, equally powerful.

Related post: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation


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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Book Review: How to Do Kaizen

Many months ago, Norman Bodek sent  me a copy of the book, How to Do Kaizen: A New Path to Innovation (its sub, sub-title is Empowering Everyone to Be a Problem Solver).  Norman, the indisputable lean literature pioneer from the west,  co-authored the book with Bunji Tozawa, a prolific kaizen author in his own right. Norman is also the editor and publisher (PCS Inc.) of the book. The work was published in January of 2010.

My humble take is that How to Do Kaizen is a very important book about voluntary kaizen!

At 425 pages, the book is long. It’s probably longer than it has to be and sometimes it could be more cogent.  (Of course, I am certainly not the most economical writer!) That said, it is clearly written from the heart from the perspective of the authors’ passion about the subject matter and the undeniable sentiment of respect for the worker. Indeed, much of daily kaizen is about first making work more human/easier.

How to Do Kaizen imparts a tremendous amount of practical know-how and know-why around daily kaizen, within what the authors’ call kaizen systems and the application of quick and easy kaizen. The book contains a ton of real-life examples.

Here are some of the many “nuggets” within the book:

  • The average U.S. worker comes up with one new idea every seven years…and only 32% of  those suggestions are implemented. A pretty pitiful underutilization of human creativity! Autoliv, Brigham City, a two-time Shingo Prize winner, is profiled within the book. In 2009, they had implemented 63 suggestions/person. Autoliv’s 2010 goal is 96. When training companies in quick and easy kaizen, the authors target 2 implemented suggestions/person/month.
  • Daily, voluntary kaizen’s “juice” comes from implemented suggestions, no matter how simple the improvement may be. Doing, followed by documenting and sharing via simple “kaizen memos” help capture the improvements while facilitating recognition and propagating the spirit and content of the kaizen. Several months ago, I wrote a post on Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings. See the picture, below for my version of that improvement as documented in a type of simple kaizen memo. Click to enlarge.
  • Norman’s interview with Tom Hartman, Senior Director Lean Consulting, Autoliv Americas provides some outstanding insight into Autoliv’s daily kaizen journey. The Brigham City facility went from less than 0.5 implemented suggestions/employee/year in 1999 to 63 in 2009. Hartman details how the plant ventured from “creature comfort kaizen” to daily kaizen that was also well-aligned with enterprise’s value objectives (quality, productivity, machine reliability, etc.). He further shares how this transformation was facilitated by things like plant-wide TPS training and quality workshops, TPM events, jidoka application, leaders evolving into coaches, transition of the suggestion system from individual focused to team focused, improved visual management, and institution of leader standard work.
  • Good daily kaizen coaches (team leaders, supervisors, managers et al), use the following types of keywords:
    • Observation keywords. Help people notice problems – “duplicated effort,” “complicated,” “tedious,” ” tiring,” etc.
    • Ideation keywords. Help people come up with countermeasures – “eliminate,” ” combine,” rearrange,” “simplify,” etc.
    • Implementation keywords. Encourage implementation ASAP – “for the time being,” “start with part of the problem,” “if it doesn’t work, try something different,” etc.

This book exudes engagement and empowerment and reinforces how simple, fundamental stuff can literally change a culture and leverage the creative talents of each and every person. If you want to transition from system-driven kaizen to principle-driven kaizen, this is an extremely helpful book.

Related posts: Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings, Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation

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Leader Standard Work and Plausible Deniability

Truthfully, the only times I have ever heard the term “plausible deniability,” other than my own frivolous use, is in movies or TV shows about clandestine operations and the like. Wikipedia says, at least for now,

Plausible deniability refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible…

Sounds spooky, no pun intended. In a lean environment there’s no place for plausible deniability. It’s all about transparency and the ability to identify abnormal conditions and, not to be redundant, opportunities.

Leader standard work is SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) in action. It seeks to determine whether standards are being adhered to and whether they are sufficient – very important stuff when you are to trying to sustain lean gains and develop a lean culture.

We all know that good leader standard work is supplemented by good visual controls – ones that enable “drive by” ease to determine normal versus abnormal. What some folks unfortunately don’t comprehend or want to comprehend is that leader standard work is redundant or “nested.”

A supervisor or team leader’s leader standard work may represent as much as 50% of their time on the job. A next level manager 30%. A value stream leader (i.e., plant manager) as much as 20% or so. Is each level’s standard work totally different? No! There’s redundancy. The frequency and scope may differ, but the checker, and the checker of the checker (and so on) is being checked at multiple levels.

This may sound like muda. But, in lean we often rely upon “human systems.” Human systems are fragile in nature and therefore need rigorous support and maintenance. This rigor requires direct confirmation. Are you more inclined to properly execute your assigned tasks if you know that someone is going to be auditing your work and your area of responsibility – in person?

Indeed, while leader standard work must include the superior checking the subordinate’s leader standard work document to, among other things,: 1) ensure that it has been completed in a timely manner, 2) identify what abnormalities have been identified (and whether they are of a repeat variety), and 3) the sufficiency of the subordinate’s countermeasures, it also must include direct observation. We, like Taiichi Ohno, must prefer facts over data.

The superior’s leader standard work must also require him or her to go to the gemba and for example, ensure that the operator(s) is working in accordance with standard work – steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard work-in-process. Anything less than that and we’re in the plausible deniability realm, taking the “word” of the second hand information and never verifying…even though we may have more than an inkling that the system is breaking down. “Hey, my subordinate was checking that in their leader standard work…”

It’s not that we shouldn’t trust people, we just need to be good lean pragmatists. We need to model the proper behaviors and actively lead and coach. Good leader standard work, and thus SDCA, does not co-exist with loose and informal chains (of command). Nothing deniable there.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Guest Post: Getting Paid for Getting Lean – Beyond Training

The lights went out the instant the squirrel died.

That was the conclusion drawn by a friend and colleague of mine at a mid-sized manufacturing plant in Rhode Island after he investigated the cause of a recent blackout that stopped production for hours, idling dozens of workers and wreaking havoc with the daily schedule. Apparently, an adventurous but ill-fated squirrel had climbed under the transformer cover outside of the building and gnawed through the insulation on a power line, eventually – and briefly — becoming part of the circuit. This event led my friend to note that continuous efforts at product and process improvement extend beyond the manufacturing cell, the shop floor and even the factory itself.

Much has been written about the benefits of lean manufacturing. Lean practices help to reduce waste, improve delivery time and slash the total cost of production. Ongoing, evolutionary efforts that focus on potential problem areas help to create a cycle of continuous improvement. Still, worthwhile as these goals are, achieving them can be expensive in the short term. Fortunately, there is money available to help cover the costs.

My job takes me from factory to factory, where I talk to people in engineering, manufacturing, management, accounting and other disciplines. Over the years, I have observed that all funding programs are not created equal, and some of the most valuable ones are often overlooked entirely. For example, many companies are intimately familiar with Workforce Training Grants, which subsidize the cost of educating workers about lean techniques and related methods. However, many of these same companies are either unaware of Research Credit Programs or mistakenly believe that these important funding sources aren’t available to them.

Part of the problem with misconceptions about research credit programs can be found in the name itself. Many people believe that “research” is a narrow area of activity limited to people in white lab coats. In reality, though, the term is much, much broader than that. For most such programs, everything from product development all the way through the plant to incremental improvements in work flow and manufacturing cell design can qualify for funding.

To be eligible, a specific project must meet three specific tests:

1)    A discreet and measurable technical improvement is intended.

2)    Technological uncertainty exists regarding the intended improvement.

3)    A process of experimentation is undertaken in an effort to overcome uncertainty.

For example, an effort to reduce scrap by ten percent on an existing line could qualify. Why? Because the goal is technical and measurable, it is not clear how or whether the desired goal can be achieved, and the effort will require trying and evaluating various process changes.

The problem with the squirrel is similar. Keeping curious critters out of a transformer housing is one issue. The fact that the plant identified a single point of failure is another.  Efforts to develop an improved and more reliable power management system could form the basis of another eligible project.

Workforce training grants are intended to provide new skills for your workers. Once the workers are actively trying to develop improved technical processes, they may be engaged in projects that are eligible under one or more research credit programs.

Federal and state research credits can be substantial, amounting to a significant portion of total expenses. In addition, companies can often go back up to three years into the past to find and claim eligible projects. The rules for the various programs change from time to time, so help from a qualified practitioner is highly recommended.

Thanks for reading this, and watch out for squirrels!


This guest post was authored by Otto Kunz, CPA, EA, MBA, founder of  Tax Credit Advisors, LLC. He is a technologist with over twenty years of experience in manufacturing technology and related software development. Since 1994, Otto has worked with companies throughout the United States and Canada in order to secure funding for technical development, supporting efforts to improve technological competitiveness in North America.  In addition to his work with TCA, he is currently a member of the adjunct faculty at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts where he lectures on taxation and related topics. Otto may be contacted at (508) 842-3232 or for a free consultation to determine if your product and process efforts, including those within your lean journey, may be eligible for research credit support.