Posts Tagged lean implementation

Lean War Trophies

For millennia, warriors have taken war trophies to commemorate their victories. They range from the souvenir to war reparations to the just plain gory.

We’ve got flags and weapons and things like seagoing vessels, such as the US Coast Guard’s tall ship Eagle – courtesy of the defeated Nazi navy. (My son has a lot of great memories on the 295 foot Eagle.)

And then there are human trophies. You know scalps, heads, ears – that kind of stuff.

So, where am I going with this?

Lean implementation is a never-ending war. It’s a hard and noble effort.

Occasionally, we need to smell the roses and reflect. This includes basking (ever so) briefly in the team’s success.

A war trophy can help in the commemoration, serving as a poignant and necessary reminder of a substantial past victory…and the possibility of future ones.

Sometime the victory is the fruit of superhuman work. Like tearing down a two story, 220 square foot cinder block and wood building that impeded flow – and accomplishing that in one shift (True story. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a chunk of concrete!).

More often than not, there is physical work, but the real win has to do with the organization taking a giant lean leap of faith. In other words, doing something that definitely does not seem in the best interest of an otherwise healthy sacred cow.

Now that is deserving of a lean war trophy.

I remember my first trophy, circa 1995. It was an elaborately machined aluminum “stopper” – picture something on the order of a one foot wide and 10 inch high book-end.

Its purpose in life was to prevent the partially assembled product speeding downstream on a motorized conveyor from overwhelming the downstream assembly operators. These downstream operators could position the stopper so that it straddled the conveyor and basically dam it up…at least until one of the upstream pieces of equipment went down (a routine occurrence) and provided an opportunity to catch up.

Interestingly enough, this line (actually there were 6 identical lines) had been proudly called the “JIT Line” for years!?  You know just-in-time…as in takt, flow, and pull.

Clearly, none of that JIT stuff was going on, just a lot of overproduction and frustration.

Fortunately, these lines were ultimately reconstituted into single-piece flow cells, without any conveyors or isolated islands. I took one of the obsolete aluminum stoppers as a war trophy – less so for the physical conversion from push to pull. More so for the important revolution in thinking.

That was something I wanted to remember.

Pictured in this post is a nylon block – one of a couple hundred that were used to hold product as it wound its way through a curing cycle. It’s my most recent trophy. Admittedly, I encouraged others to take one as well.

The block was liberated from a machine – actually, there were two identical ones…twins! Both of the machines have been moved away to a warehouse. Hopefully, it’s a very temporary stop on the way to scrap yard.

Anyway, these machines were the proverbial universal automated behemoths, engineered and built by folks who didn’t have to live with them.

They took up a lot of space, were less than reliable, required two pairs of operators to feed and unload, didn’t necessarily match takt time, etc. In a John Henry match-up, the manual lines would win. They are more productive, more flexible, produce better quality, and so on.

But, when you spend a lot of money on a project, it’s tough to say goodbye. Unless of course, the organization starts to really get it. And they did, hence the trophy!

I’ll keep this one for a while.

So, do you have any Lean trophies?

Related posts: The Perils of “Lean Relativism”Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!

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Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

model line picModel lines (a.k.a. pilot) are a proven method to initiate a lean launch. The model, typically one specific “line” or value stream within a single facility or operation, provides a small, focused and controlled playground for implementing lean. The pilot represents a low risk venue within which lean leaders can experiment, learn and (hopefully) successfully build a much leaner line or value stream. The effort  also provides valuable opportunities for showcasing what lean “looks” and “feels” like; an important element in the change management process.

Pilot lessons learned encompass the technical aspects of lean implementation from a tools, systems and deployment perspective, while providing critical insight into the necessary cultural and human resource requirements. The model line’s foundation must be built upon lean leader alignment and effective change management as well as a rigorously developed value stream improvement plan. Of course,  prudent pilot selection is absolutely essential. Selection criteria must include the potential impact of the pilot, strength of pilot leadership and implementation degree of difficulty (technical and cultural).

Once the model line has demonstrated elevated performance through the appropriate application of lean, then (after a formal checkpoint process) the organization will typically move to an initial deployment phase. Within this phase, the organization seeks to replicate the model to another line (same value stream/processes) either in the same facility (if there are multiple ones) or another facility. Here the organization applies the lessons learned from the pilot and begins to learn new ones relative to technical scalability and human resources issues (you can’t stack the team with your best players once you start having more than one team) while verifying the business impact.

Ultimately, after any related issues (and there will be plenty) have been successfully addressed, initial deployment transitions into full scale deployment. Full scale deployment expands the model to all lines/identical value streams throughout the organization. Here the company should enjoy the full business impact of what was tested out in the model line and have an excellent technical and cultural foundation for further lean deployment throughout other portions of the business.

Model lines are a thoughtful and measured method to deploy lean, or virtually any system for that matter. Perhaps the purveyors of health care reform should have made use of the concept…in fact, Massachusetts may be a pilot that offers some profound lessons learned.

What do you think?

Related post: Value (Stream) Delivery – What about the family?

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Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

barney picMy three children are well beyond the Barney years. It’s been about 10 years since I was subjected to that song, but unfortunately it is burned into my brain, “Everyone is special, special. Everyone is special…” Of course, I don’t disagree with that sentiment, just the inane song. However, when it comes to lean implementation, people seem to sing that very song, just with different words.

We’ve seen lean adoption successfully expand across a number of different industries, resistance slowly receding as new frontiers were explored and barriers breached. First (in very broad terms) lean was a Toyota thing, then it was perceived as something for the automotive industry (who hasn’t heard the plaintive cry from someone resisting lean that goes something like, “we aren’t making cars here!”), then a manufacturing thing, then lean started making inroads within transactional businesses, now health care, etc., etc.  Just the other day, I was reviewing a lean health care case study for a company that does a lot in the lab and manufacturing operations (long story). At the conclusion of the review a manufacturing engineer noted that lean seems to work in health care, but was skeptical as to whether it worked in manufacturing. Doh!!

There are mounds of empirical evidence that lean works and can work in virtually any value stream. The expectation is not that everyone has to be a carbon copy of Toyota or anyone else for that matter. It’s pretty much impossible and probably is not the most effective path. Companies are different (special) from the perspective of culture, strategic imperatives, value streams, etc. BUT lean principles are lean principles. They apply to everyone.

The Shingo Prize’s Transformation Model for Operational Excellence identifies, among other things, 10 basic principles. These principles transcend the lean tools and systems (the “know how”) and represent the “know why” of lean transformation. A deeper understanding of the principles, according the Shingo Prize model, “…empower[s] the organization to develop and deploy specific methodologies and practices unique to the organization.” Unique means “special” in Barney language.

Here are the 10 Shingo Prize model principles within four “dimensions.” I encourage you to go to the Shingo Prize website and read through the model. If you can’t agree that the principles apply to your business, well…you’re not going to successfully implement lean in a meaningful way.

  • Cultural Enablers – 1. respect for the individual, 2. humility
  • Continuous Process Improvement – 3. flow/pull, 4. process focus, 5. scientific thinking, 6. integration of improvement with work, 7. seek perfection
  • Consistent Lean Enterprise Culture – 8. systemic thinking, 9. constancy of purpose
  • Business Results – 10. create value

So, the question shouldn’t be whether lean will work in your corner of the world. It can. The question should be more about how are you going to best apply lean tools and systems within the context of (satisfying) the principles.

What do you think?

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