Archive for February, 2011

Animated Cartoon: “What’s the Problem?”

A couple of weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal article covered how many folks are creating computer-generated cartoons. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!” Whether or not I should is a different matter altogether…

Well, I took a shot at a hopefully instructive animated cartoon around problem-solving and what I see as one of the biggest challenges to effective problem-solving.  Let me know if any of this seems familiar.


The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader

A recent George F. Will column referenced the sign recreated at left. While I don’t necessarily believe that the signage encompasses the complete definition of discipline, it certainly provides food for thought.

A lot of folks think of discipline, especially in the context of lean, as something extrinsic. It’s something that is applied and reinforced through the rigor of leader standard work, daily accountability processes, and value stream improvement plan and strategy deployment checkpoints, etc. Discipline is enforced…by leaders on others. Obviously, not even close to the full story, but we are not so naive as to believe that extrinsic discipline is not important or necessary.

What about the lean leaders? Sure, the leaders of the leaders can drive discipline. But, purely extrinsic discipline is more like a dictatorship. Lean leaders must have intrinsic discipline. It’s got to come from within.

Lean leaders must have sufficient commitment to, and faith in, lean principles (lead with humility, respect the individual, flow, pull, PDCA, identify and eliminate waste, rely on data, etc.) such that they will discipline themselves to do what they don’t want to do when they don’t want to do it. Because it’s worth the pain.

And their peers, teammates and subordinates watch and learn from the leader’s example as he or she:

  • Sucks it up and goes the extra mile to visit the gemba and directly observe the current reality,
  • Guts it out and takes the 5 whys to the fifth…or tenth in order to get to the root cause,
  • Remains super-humanly patient mentoring an individual through yet another revision of an A3,
  • Requires a number of painful desktop simulations to see if, when and where the kanban system breaks (before it’s piloted for real),
  • …and so on.

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back


Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining

I’ve driven past the building pictured below well over a dozen times. It appears commercial in nature, but with the lack of descriptive visual controls, I had no idea, until now, what it is.

Commercial signage typically provides folks with more insight into the name and type of business. The lack of ABC information was driving me a bit crazy…which of course made me think about the self-explaining attribute of effective visual controls.

Among other things, gemba-based observers should be able to understand, unassisted, what a given object, process or system is. If relevant, a visual control should also share the subject’s purpose, and related operating rules, including a definition of the normal condition (and often, what to do in response to an abnormal condition).

…Back to ABC. Turns out it’s a liquor store (a.k.a. “package store”). Seems that in North Carolina, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission controls the sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. There’s a bunch of ABC stores throughout the state.

It certainly was not self-explaining.

How many mysterious ABC’s do you have in your plant, office, lab or hospital?

Related post: Visual of the Visual?


Effective Lean Leaders Provide Sufficient Tools. Cheapskates Do Not.

During a recent business trip to Mexico, I spied a hotel worker using the tools captured in the picture. While there is definitely some creativity applied in the development of the tools, the twig broom (or is that a rake?) clearly is not sufficient – lots of motion required, but much of it wasted.

This same thing happens way too often in other gemba locations. Insufficient tools, and often just the plain LACK of tools, get in the way of performance.

The four-fold improvement objective is first, easier, then better, faster, and cheaper. Short-sighted leaders often think they can jump to cheaper by being cheapskates when it comes to basic tools for the job. Among other things, this belies a lack of respect for the employee. Maybe they need to “walk a mile” in their employees’ shoes…or at least  directly observe reality at the gemba!?

Just to be clear, here we’re talking about pragmatic tools, not overbuilt, gold-plated tools with unnecessary features and performance levels. And yes, as the saying goes, we must always, “reach for our brain, before our wallets.” But, workers need sufficient tools that: 1) protect them from ergonomic stress and trauma, 2) are capable of producing sufficient repeatable outcomes, and 3) support the least waste way, as captured within good standard work.

I’ve run into my share of “bad brooms,” as in the picture. Like the homemade knives that the operators made in order to cut foam. Their knives were basically pieces of scrap metal, with tape wrapped around one end for the handle. No knife looked the same. Many made ragged cuts. A lot were unsafe. Could management have done a better job?

How about the leaders who resist buying the required hand tools and storing them, at the behest of engaged employees, at a point-of-use shadow board for a routine set-up? The tools will get lost or stolen, anyway, why bother? Meanwhile, operators constantly venture out on long, time-consuming safaris to go find the required tools (yes, I know tool-less set-ups are the target condition…). Not easier, and certainly not least way.

We could go on. I am sure that you have countless examples from your gemba.

The scary thing is that workers in such situations get numb to the waste that their cheapskate leaders have helped create and sustain. Penny-wise, pound foolish environments are death to the kaizen spirit.

Don’t be a cheapskate.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

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