Posts Tagged trystorm

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!

Tags: ,

Lean Aerial Photography!?!

Ok, it’s really aerial photography with a lean application. And, it’s not that aerial. Just a guy standing on a big step ladder and taking a picture of stuff below. Yes, there’s a fancy camera in his right hand.

So, where’s the lean in this?

Good question.

When I first saw the ladder in the kaizen team’s breakout room, I was a bit perplexed. But, as it turns out, there was a good reason for the ladder. Actually, it’s pretty cool.

Many of us have participated in the design of future state layouts. This often employs two-dimensional scale models as a team seeks layouts that, among other things, facilitate better flow of product, people, information, tooling, scrap, etc., the use of less floor space, improved visual control, etc.

In an effort to generate multiple ideas and options and converge on the best one, many teams create a number of different alternative designs (think of the popular application of the 7 ways or 7 alternatives). These alternatives are then scored by the team against pre-established, weighted criteria.

Well, creating 7 or so different two-dimensional models can be time AND space consuming. The activity involves materials such as cardboard, plywood, paper cut-outs, sheet metal, magnets, yarn, and so on.

Enter the aerial photographer.

The folks with the ladder had a brilliant idea. After each iteration or alternative design, the designated photographer climbed the ladder and snapped a photo of the layout. (You need a pretty decent camera, by the way.) This way they quickly recorded and printed out the layout and then rapidly proceeded to the next design using the same materials.

More iterations. More ideas. More interaction. More learning. Better output.

Related posts: Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions, Without Defined Criteria, (Almost) Everything Looks Good, Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?

Tags: ,

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

Tags: , , , ,

“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.

Tags: ,

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

Tags: , ,

Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?

ready fire aim picOne of kaizen‘s unofficial taglines is, “Just do it.” And it makes sense. We try to spin the PDCA wheel as fast and as frequently as possible in order to experiment and quickly learn and make adjustments. But, sometimes we should just do it AFTER careful and extensive simulation. It seems wimpy, but it’s about managing risk. Lean leaders should care about that.

So, when does it make sense to simulate an improvement? We actually do it all the time when we trystorm. Trystorming is a melding of brainstorming and simulation. It can be really simple stuff or it can be much more involved. People tend to be fairly OK with the simple stuff, but start getting weak in the knees when meaty simulation is required. They don’t want to take too much time simulating. It can be slow and tedious.

Simple simulation. People can tolerate simple simulation like pantomiming the new standard work sequence with a draft standard work sheet and standard work combination sheet in hand before they try it out for the first time. Then they can make adjustments on the way. Hey, who wouldn’t be OK with that level of effort and spontaneity?

More extensive. The more extensive simulations take time and require a certain rigor. Why do we need to endure this pain? Because the implementation of improved or brand new systems can cause big problems if we don’t iron out some of the more substantial flaws. Often we don’t know what we don’t know. Here are two types of extensive simulations.

  • Many people apply 3P (production preparation process) when developing substantially new or improved processes  and/or products.  As we all know, locking in a poorly designed product or process is a recipe for long-term pain and suffering. In brief, 3P is a team-based methodology in which the members down-select from multiple alternatives to seven different ways for a new improved process (or product), simulate the new process with crude, inexpensive, and quickly applied materials (PVC, cardboard, wood, duct tape, etc.), then whittle down the options to three best process designs (as measured against predetermined selection criteria), followed by more trystorming and then ultimate selection.
  • Supermarket pull is a wonderful thing when properly applied, but you’ve got to get it right in order to ensure that the downstream customers are not starved and that there is no excess inventory. Pull system or kanban system simulations are extremely valuable. Using production kanban as an example, after taking a first cut at demand analysis, percent load analysis, determining what the kanban strategy will be (i.e., in process, batch – pattern, batch board, triangle), sizing the kanban, formulating the draft standard work (how/who/when regarding kanban posts, emergency kanbans, scheduling protocol, etc.), etc., we need to simulate the system using real historical demand data and some invented surprises.  The simulation requires cards for all of the inventory, mock kanban posts, “scheduling,” capacity analysis…the whole nine yards! It is critical to find out when and where the system breaks in a big way and then figure out what needs to be adjusted…before it goes live.

So, what are your experiences with either high intensity simulations or implementations where it would have been a good idea to simulate (or simulate better)?

Related posts: Kaizen Principle: Be like MacGyver, use creativity before capital!, Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Kaizen Principle: Be like MacGyver, use creativity before capital!

MacGyver picRemember Angus MacGyver? He was the star of the old MacGyver TV series and used science and the inventive application of common items (gum wrappers, duct tape, etc. – kind of a one person moonshine shop) to solve desperate problems. Well, MacGyver should be an unofficial kaizen hero for his real-time creativity and frugality.

Are we saying that lean practitioners are cheap? Well, yes from the standpoint that it is muda to spend or use more than is required to implement an effective countermeasure. But, the real driver behind the principle here is trystorming (the dynamic, real-time cycle of try-observe-improve-repeat through which individuals and teams identify and validate the best improvement idea) as much as possible before, if need be, committing some real capital. As Taiichi Ohno was credited with saying, “Quick and dirty is better than slow and fancy.”

And with the notion of “dirty” there is need for kaizeners to get their hands dirty – planning, doing, checking and adjusting. This requires the use of often simple, readily available materials (wood, cardboard, PVC, etc.) and “re-purposed” equipment, furniture, materials and supplies. So, what are some examples where people effectively reached for their brains before their wallets:

  • Re-purposed discarded rooftop air conditioner attached to a cooling vessel increased the compounding line rate ($0.9 million annual savings),
  • Urinal flush valve used to quickly dispense the requisite amount of water to a dry material so that it could be safely shipped,
  • Residential dishwasher serving as a right-sized, line-side parts washer.

So, what are some of your favorite MacGyver moments?

Tags: , , , ,