Archive for January, 2011

Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions

Lean is applied within time and space. That’s where we “live” and add value, or not. Organizations often don’t rigorously consider critical lean implications when designing new spaces – whether brand new buildings, additions or modifications to existing structures.

The fact is that spaces need to support and facilitate a leaner value stream. Too often we design new spaces to accommodate old, waste-laden, value-inhibiting ways…because the architectural and construction process often has its own inertia. Lean thinking can end up taking the back seat. This is a big fail!

So, whether we: 1) believe (careful of that) that we have squeezed out much of the improvement opportunity within a given value stream and now anticipate that an improved space will bring us to the next level, or  2) have just begun our lean journey and think a new or redesigned space will give us some serious performance lift, or 3) are somewhere in between, there are some fundamental considerations before the architects design, the demo guys demolish, the contractors…you get the point.

Few things go together as well as value stream analysis and new layout development. It’s an opportunity to define a leaner future state, at both a conceptual and physical level. Of course, these activities are what we would call paper kaizen. While we can challenge one another on how to get to continuous flow, apply supermarket pull, incorporate new/improved standard work, etc., it’s still just captured on paper. It’s not real yet.

This is where 3P (production preparation process, or perhaps, more appropriately 2P – preparation process) is powerful stuff. Within the context of certain weighted design criteria (see below for some questions that might help identify key criteria), 3P facilitates: 1) the formulation of many different design alternatives, 2) down-selection to a critical few design concepts, 3) trystorming/PDCA of the critical few using open space, chalk lines, cardboard, PVC, etc., sometimes aided by 3D design, and ultimately, 4) the selection of a final design.

Now, that may sound too easy, and often it is. If the new space is supposed to accommodate a bunch of “improved” flows, standard work, visual controls, etc…heck, a brand new system, the likelihood that it will all work without a bunch of real PDCA, applied over many weeks, is about ZERO.

So, you need to evaluate the risk of going too fast and perhaps spending lots of money and then determining that the new space is far from what is needed. Most times, depending upon the depth of change, it may make sense to live the new system, as best you can, in your old space and do PDCA. While you do this, PDCA the design of the space.

To spur some thought around lean space design, here are a handful of questions to consider. In no specific order:

  1. Will the new space facilitate the least waste physical flow of the material, information, person, supplies, scrap, equipment, tooling, etc.?
  2. Will the new space facilitate and even enhance visual management by means of clear line of sight – no obstructions (high features, corners, stairs, etc.)?
  3. Will the new space have desirable acoustics to facilitate audible communication (musical andons, team discussions, etc.) and provide sufficient quiet/privacy to do the job (like in a call center)?
  4. Will the space facilitate 5S and work place organization? For example, how can we better accomplish the 4th S, standardized clean-up, by keeping things from getting messy in the first place?
  5. PDCA is forever and business dynamics evolve – is the space flexible enough to accommodate improved layouts, forecasted growth, normal demand variation? Avoid “roots or vines” so that equipment, furniture, workstations and even walls can be easily moved.
  6. Will the space facilitate tiered team meetings and accommodate the related performance metrics boards, suggestion boards, task accountability boards, etc.?
  7. Will the space be something that you would be proud to show you customers, something that your employees will feel makes their job easier and more satisfying?
  8. Will the space facilitate standard work and, with that, avoid isolated islands while promoting appropriate multi-process operations?
  9. Will the space generate a sufficient ROI?
  10. Will the stakeholders “own” the new space, because they were appropriately engaged in developing it?

What are your space design considerations?

Related posts: Telling “How” Removes Responsibility, Without Defined Criteria, (Almost) Everything Looks Good

Tags: ,

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

Tags: ,

Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

My teenage education was (maybe) enhanced by substantial doses of Monty Python. Occasionally, I discover a lean metaphor somewhere within their body of work. One of my absolute favorite scenes is from the  movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The three minute scene goes by two names: 1) the Bridge of Death, or 2) the Three Questions.

Now would be a good time to watch the scene if you’re not familiar with it. Of course, if you’re like me, even though you’ve seen it before, you’ll watch it again…and laugh.

So, back the lean metaphor. Most folks are stuck on one side of the gorge (that would be the “Gorge of Eternal Peril”) practicing system-driven kaizen – organized kaizen, mostly directed by value stream improvement plans. While this particular side isn’t terrible, it’s only a stepping stone to real lean. You should be crossing the bridge to the other side, the side of principal driven kaizen – system-driven kaizen, plus daily (mostly voluntary) kaizen. Only then will the enterprise and the culture be truly transformed!

Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.

In the Holy Grail movie, the only way to cross the Bridge of Death is to successfully answer the three questions. For this kaizen bridge, you’ve got to answer at least 15 questions. Don’t worry, unlike the Monty Python version, if you don’t answer any of the questions incorrectly (or at least not affirmatively), you will not be, “…cast in the Gorge of Eternal Peril.”

In no particular order:

  1. Have all of your employees been trained in basic problem-solving methods and are they coached how and encouraged to use them?
  2. Is the environment one of problem-solving or problem-hiding?
  3. Has the organization developed good PDCA rigor through the proper application of kaizen events and has virtually everyone participated in multiple events?
  4. Do you have an effective lean management system that employs: a) leader standard work, b) visual controls, and c) cascading tiered performance metrics?
  5. Have you implemented a pragmatic suggestion system that emphasizes quick implementation of true incremental improvement (kaizen teian), typically by the person who suggests the improvement?
  6. Do you broadly and virally share improvement ideas?
  7. Do you apply the 5 why’s or the 5 who’s?
  8. Do the lean leaders promote A3 thinking?
  9. Has the organization sufficiently resourced the kaizen promotion office (a.k.a. lean function) to help teach, coach and facilitate improvement activities?
  10. Is the focus of improvement such that the order of importance is a) easier, b) better, c) faster, and d) cheaper?
  11. Are folks fearful of failure or do they, and leadership, see it as a necessary means of learning and improving?
  12. Are you internally capable (or at least getting there) or are you suffering from consultant dependency?
  13. Do folks know what “True North” is and how they can do their part to get there?
  14. Is the culture one of humility and respect for the individual?
  15. Is lean applied within the context of a holistic lean business system?

I know there are a bunch more. What are your additions to the list?

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!


Guest Post: Preventing Mistakes – Not Just Chump Change

Companies just seem to love big initiatives.  The thinking perhaps goes: If we hire an expensive consulting firm, we can transform the way we do business, we can start big projects, we can give out lots of new titles, and at the end of the year we can analyze our results and see if we had a gain.

Or…we can do some simple mistake-proofing and pick up the change that’s lying on the floor.

When we look at our value stream, we want to see an unobstructed flow, without detours, hiccups, or reversals.  When we create defects, we throw a monkey wrench into the works and our flow is interrupted.

To make the situation worse, many of us tend to institutionalize our waste.  We create quality systems to document our defects.  Some companies have even created re-work departments.  Talk about non-value added!

I need you to change a bit of your traditional thinking. In order to implement successful mistake-proofing, we have to accept the reality of human error. We have to acknowledge that humans (and machines) will make mistakes.  Once we accept that fact, we can set about putting things in place that will prevent the error or defect; but if we don’t embrace the reality, we are doomed to repeat the waste over and over again.

One of the exercises I like to do is have folks make a list of 10 recent defects in their workplace. We then target one from that list and do a thumbnail cost analysis along with a list of all the aggravations associated with that problem.  It’s quite eye-opening.

A frequent contributor to the list is setup errors.  After all, when you set up a job incorrectly you typically make the entire job wrong, but the root cause is often something simple.  Someone entered an incorrect date code or someone used the wrong product label, those types of things.  (I have seen simple order entry errors cost upwards of a million dollars when a large order had to be scrapped.)

Next, I ask “What did your company do to make sure it never happens again?”

“Well, we had people work overtime to re-work the product so we could get the order out and satisfy the customer.  We also issued a stern e-mail telling all the supervisors to keep a closer eye on things and to try harder.”  That accomplishes little.

Do a gemba walk and take a close look at how much time you are spending fighting fires.  Look at what your supervisors are doing at the moment.  Are they facilitating or firefighting?

Rather than accept the situation, institute a strong mistake-proofing program and put things, lots of things, in place that will eliminate the opportunity for the error.

Simply put, a mistake-proofing device is something that makes it impossible for the error or defect to occur.  It could be a mechanical gizmo, a change to a form, or a change to software.  The possibilities are limitless.

Toyota has an average 14 mistake-proofing devices at EVERY workstation. You should, too!  Go ahead and take away the opportunity to make a judgment error, an identification error, an entry error – the list goes on forever.

There are number of things that contribute to effective mistake-proofing in the workplace:

  • Accept that errors are inevitable and that we will implement real devices to prevent the error.
  • Educate our workforce in the concept of effective mistake-proofing.
  • Avoid blame.  Ask ourselves, “Have we provided the worker with all the tools necessary to ensure success, or are we setting them up for failure?”
  • Use a standard method when mistake-proofing.  I like using a source error chart.  Don’t rush the investigation process.  Take a little time to get it right.
  • Use small cross-functional teams in mistake-proofing events.  I like groups of six or seven people and would normally devote four hours or so for a particular defect.
  • Don’t get too hung up on the root cause.  I know this may sound sacrilegious in quality circles, but sometimes the root cause is simply “I forgot.”  By accepting the fact that people forget things, we can look for a device to help us remember.

After you put your device in place, keep looking for more opportunities.  I don’t usually recommend you look for “What if?” scenarios for something that might go wrong.  I like to look at the big pile of things that actually did go wrong and caused us grief.  There is plenty of action without looking for something that might happen. For instance, look at the re-work area and strive to eliminate it.

If something happened once, it’s very likely to happen again – and again – and again. So don’t put up with it. Use mistake-proofing to pick that change up off the floor.

This post was written by Sam Hoskins, CSSBB, MS, president of MistakeProofing.Net. Sam is an experienced hands-on mistake-proofing trainer and facilitator, who has conducted dozens of events for a diverse range of industries such as explosives manufacturing, processed food companies, welding and fabricating shops, and healthcare.  He learned lean and mistake-proofing while at the Ensign-Bickford Company and authored the mistake-proofing portion of their successful application for the 2001 Shingo Prize.  In addition to mistake-proofing, he is currently conducting Lean 101 training for a variety of companies through Parkland College in central Illinois. You may reach Sam at


Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – John Shook’s Lean Management Column

This is my third and final installment as part of John Hunter’s review roundup. John has hosted his annual blog review for three years now.  In this installment, I am pleased to review John Shook’s Lean Management Column, which was recently, more or less, retired. In his new capacity as Lean Enterprise Institute’s Chairman and CEO, Mr. Shook will continue his monthly eLetters. Word has it that he will be contributing to the yet to be launched A3 Dojo column at LEI’s website.   

Many of us have enhanced our lean knowledge by reading (and then applying) one or more of John Shook’s books (sorry, I couldn’t avoid the rhyme). He has authored the outstanding book, Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process and co-authored: Learning to See, Lean Lexicon, and Kaizen Express. Yes, I own all four!

According to John, his philosophy around the Lean Management column, which he pointedly did not want to call a “blog,” was characterized by the Claude Levi-Strauss quote, “The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.” If you’ve read Managing to Learn, this makes a lot of sense!

Here are a few of John’s posts:

  • Detroit’s Auto Show Overshadowed by Dr. Womack’s Trashing of Toyota. Here Shook refers to Womack’s call for everyone to move beyond Toyota. John takes this opportunity to talk about the limitations of the word “lean” as well as the self-induced constraints around the use of “TPS.” In the end, he states that lean/TPS is really good old PDCA in the Deming sense and operationalized by Toyota.
  • Don’t Gloat too Quickly – If this Could Happen to Toyota, It Could Happen to You. John talks about more than Toyota’s bungled PR efforts around their 2010 quality woes. PR is, in many ways, superficial. Shook hopes that the crisis helps, “deepen even further the development of people and a culture in which everyone is focused on doing the right thing.” Taiichi Ohno knew that a crisis had value.
  • Arigatou NUMMI.” John Shook reflects upon the closing of NUMMI, the GM-Toyota joint venture where he was first exposed to lean 25 years ago.  “The biggest loss from the closing of NUMMI is for neither GM nor Toyota, but for the greater North American manufacturing community. NUMMI proved that the best manufacturing practices in the world could work right here in North America with a union workforce. And more than just prove that it could work, it showed how it could work.”

John’s 2010 Lean Management Column contains 10 articles. Certainly not a lot. In fact his last post was in April of 2010. But, no surprise, each article is profoundly insightful. I’ll take quality over quantity any day!

Related post:  Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Evolving Excellence, Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Lean Homebuilding, Management Improvement Carnival #99


Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Lean Homebuilding

This is the second of my three installments as part of John Hunter’s review roundup. John has hosted his annual blog review for three years now.  In this installment, I am fortunate enough to review the Lean Homebuilding blog authored AND illustrated (see left for an example), by JC Gatlin.

My first introduction to lean homebuilding was the Doyle Wilson case study within the lean classic, Lean Thinking. The external sensei who helped coach Doyle Wilson was none other than a close colleague of mine, Jim Cutler. JC Gatlin plumbs (no pun intended!) new lean homebuilding depths through his creative, entertaining and edifying blog…and his own cartoons are awesome. Unofficially, JC has got to be the preeminent lean cartoonist.

Here are a few of JC Gatlin’s articles from 2010:

  • 5 actions to get Building Partners committed to Lean on your jobsites. JC relates how the small town homebuilder can outmaneuver the big national guys by collaborating with building partners and applying lean together. Gatlin’s five suggested actions include the rigorous use of standard work instruction sheets, discussing first time quality inspection notes, and reviewing job readiness issues/opportunities with the building partners and then executing the related countermeasures.
  • Where do PDCAs go when they die? An excellent question! JC reviews three important steps that will help the lean practitioner ensure that the plan-do-check-act process is brought to fruition, meaning that, among other things, the countermeasures are implemented, validated/adjusted, the new methods are standardized and the PDCA is documented and archived.
  • 10 Sales Kaizens that will change your business. Everyone knows that the national homebuilding industry is a BIT depressed. Here the Lean Homebuilding blog shares 10 completed mini-sales kaizen activities – most with validated improvement results.
  • Construction-Sales Gemba Walks: Don’t get blindsided by surprises. JC reminds us all of the importance of gemba walks…and doing it as a cross-functional team, while sharing some best practices within his industry.
  • The Strategy Deployment A3. Here Mr. Gatlin provides an overview of A3’s for the strategy deployment process. Strategy deployment A3’s have become more prevalent in the recent years (many of us older lean folk didn’t use the A3 for such purposes 10 to 15+ years ago…) and help drive necessary rigor.

Please visit the Lean Homebuilding blog, read the articles, enjoy the original cartoons and comment on the posts.  JC Gatlin regularly shows how lean principles, systems and tools transcend industry boundaries.

Related post:  Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Evolving Excellence, Management Improvement Carnival #99


Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Evolving Excellence

This is the first of my three installments as part of John Hunter’s review roundup. John has hosted his annual blog review for three years now and this newbie of a blogger is honored to participate. In this installment, I am fortunate enough to review the Evolving Excellence blog, authored by Kevin Meyer and Bill Waddell.

The subtitle of Evolving Excellence is, “Thoughts on lean enterprise leadership.” Of course, no one has cornered the market on thinking, but Kevin and Bill are deep thinkers and excellent writers.  Their body of work is pretty prodigious  and unafraid, and extends well beyond the parochial lean tool mindset to include thoughts on subjects as diverse as WikiLeaks, Chinese ghost cities, BP, and leadership. I certainly can’t do it justice, I can only share with you a smattering of Meyer and Waddell’s articles. Here are a few of their many articles from 2010:

  • Small Changes Can Solve Big Problems. Kevin Myer relates how a case study within Fast Company‘s article about the “cloning of bright spots,” provides some powerful insights into how small, gemba-based improvements, shared in a respectful manner (and ultimately adopted) can drive profound results. The case study? Child malnutrition in Vietnam. 
  • A Tale of Two Companies. Here Bill Waddell shares a story about a mega-giant, multi-national company that made a less than genuine inquiry into some lean accounting help from Bill, versus a much smaller one that made the inquiry, and invested their time and talent. One company was full of well-paid, really smart folks who, in the end, were superficial and really unwilling to change. They’re in trouble and their situation is not getting better. The other company is perhaps (definitely) less sexy, but they’re willing students and do’ers  and are truly improving. Which camp is your company in?
  • Whiteboards vs. Computers and the Impact on Learning. Kevin Myer shares how a Wall Street Journal article reinforced his appropriately lean-rooted preference for low-tech versus high tech. It seems that handwriting actually enhances the learning process.  The implications for whiteboards and visual indicators as well as value stream map creation seem pretty darn good.
  • Hopelessly Lost, but Making Great Time. Mr. Waddell reveals how Nike is a lean poser, employing some great lean rhetoric but wastefully and blindly chasing cheap labor. They carry over $2 billion in inventory throughout a 10,000 mile supply chain, use 600 contract factories and deploy “armies of inspectors to try to minimize…sweatshop-type abuses.” Makes me glad I buy New Balance!

There’s a lot more where that came from. Please visit the Evolving Excellence blog and comment on the posts. The writing and discussion will expand your lean thinking universe. What a great thing to do in the new year!

Related post:  Management Improvement Carnival #99