The Pencil Is Mightier Than The Puter!

a digital mp3 player

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This past week I had the opportunity to do a phone interview for a potential employer.  I have had several of them the last few weeks but this last one really stuck out in my mind.  First thing you need to understand is that I live out in the woods.  Literally.  So when I do a phone interview, I always drive 20 minutes north to a Mc Donald’s parking lot to make sure that I don’t lose cell phone signal.  I have put together a “phone interview” kit that I throw in my truck, go through the drive thru to get my large coffee and back up in a corner space to prepare for my next life changing experience.

I always get there at least 20 minutes early to get “set”.  First I turn on my “motivational music”. (Detroit Piston Warm Up Track) Open up my binder and review resume, reference sheet and miscellaneous information.  Boot up the laptop and pull up the prospective companies website.  Take a long sip of coffee and stare at my phone waiting for it to ring.  This time however, I simply looked around the front of my truck which now looked more like my desk at work.

I couldn’t believe how much technology I had sitting there.  Laptop’s, MP3 Player, Blackberry.  Any one of those items has within it more technology than the first astronauts had on their flight to the moon.  It really became overwhelming in my mind.  How are you to keep up with all the new advances.  When I got home that night and sat down to blog, I thought back to it and remembered how I use to struggle with my lean mentors for not allowing me to use my computer to do my lean work.  I remember having many arguments with them.  I would always say, “I can do it quicker on the computer!”  They would always say “Tuff!  Do it with pencil!”

I finally got why they were making me use the good ol’ number 2.  We are so ingrained with technology anymore that we have really become lazy.  Any bit of information that you need is readily available at your finger tips within seconds now a days.  Unfortunately, that is any information other than those all deceiving root causes of problems that you are trying to solve.  The first rule of lean is Gemba or go see.  There is no easy alternative for Gemba.  There is no Blackberry app that can diagnose it for you.  You can’t look up “root cause” on the world wide web and see the issue that you need to identify.  You can’t call up Cha Cha (bing it if you don’t know what that is) and ask him for the point of cause.  You have to go and see it happen for yourself.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a huge fan of technology.  Heck, I am using it to write this blog.  But, I truly understand the importance of setting it aside when doing your lean activities.  I use to think it was a great idea to video tape a process so that I could review it later to get times for standard work.  I also was incredibly good at making a Value Stream Map on a computer.  The problem is when you have your nose in a computer, you are missing out on what is really happening in front of you.  Also, you truly retain more when you write it down or draw it than when you cut and paste it.

It is going to be really interesting in the next few years to see how our newer generation of workers adapt to lean.  I still remember being upset at my kids school because they no longer teach how to read a “clock” because everything is now analog.  I fear the argument will be that I am afraid of change and advancement of technology but that really isn’t the case.  When I need to find a part to fix the root causes I find the internet might be the first place I go, but from now on when I need to identify that pesky root cause I’ll be sure to trust my number 2!

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Where Do We Start? part 2

Manufacturing employment in Cleveland, OH MSA.

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This is part 2 of a series of blogs discussing how lean manufacturing should be introduced into an organization.  Part 1 discussed whether one should try to do a company wide or departmental implementation.

What are you trying to accomplish with implementing lean?

To me this is one of the most important questions an organization or a leader must ask themselves before choosing where to start the lean implementation.  Also, I find it imperative that they are absolutely honest with themselves about their answer.  There are as many reasons to pursue lean operations as there are tools to achieve it.  If  you are looking to implement lean simply for cost cutting capabilities then I would suggest that you would be better off utilizing another tool.  Lean manufacturing, especially relating to the Toyota Production System is NOT a cost cutting program.  It is a way to change your organization’s culture to make everyone an active problem solver therefore ultimately making your company better.

In my opinion, pursuing a lean operation can be very costly in the beginning.  You have to consider the tremendous amount of training that is needed to successfully implement lean properly.  You also need to consider the cost of the additional resources that will be needed including people that are experienced in what you are trying to accomplish.  A manager that taught me so much shared a quote with his entire production leadership team.  I won’t quote his name as I don’t know how much he would appreciate the publicity but it is something to keep in mind when pursuing lean activities.  He said, “I will sacrifice short-term results for long-term gains.”  Ponder that for a moment when considering pursuing a lean environment.  Are you willing to see your precious KPI’s falter for the short-term in order to gain over the long-term?  If you aren’t, then don’t waste your money on going “lean”.

As usual, I would like to give a real life example that I experienced to demonstrate what I mean.  We were introducing the concept of Team Facilitators into our plant.  These Facilitators were to go through a six month training program and then work directly under the supervisor to help on the departments lean journey.  Here was the kicker.  In order to “get” a facilitator, we had to do process improvements to eliminate a person to become the facilitator.  To me this did not show a great deal of commitment from our leadership in the proper implementation of lean and demonstrated the true reasoning for going after it.  The fact that we are in the middle of the worst recession in memory just pushes those motivations even harder.

I remember sitting with my father, a retired “shop rat” of 42 years from General Motors and discussing the marvels of Toyota.  Needless to say he is not as big of fan of them as I am.  During one of my visits, I made sure to bring an article about how Toyota made a conscious business decision to put employees into training and to do kaizens on their processes rather than lay them off.  My dad even had to agree that it was a big deal.  Think about what a statement that makes to those employees about their commitment not only to the process but to the employees well being.

Long story short, one must really question their reason for implementing lean.  If it is simply to improve your KPI’s then I fear you are going to be severely disappointed with your results.  Your motivation must be to change your culture and understand that the improvements are simply a side benefit of what you are doing.  You must be willing to make an investment to your journey that includes many resources that most companies are looking to eliminate.  People, time, money and training are all going to be upfront costs that you must be willing to fund.  When all else fails, remember to ask yourself, “Are you willing to accept short-term results for long-term gains?”  If you can honestly say yes, then you my friend are ready to start your journey.

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Where Do We Start?

Starting line, featuring the Yard of Bricks

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I was having a conversation with a colleague this weekend about Lean Manufacturing and he asked the ultimate question.  “Where do we start the implementation of Lean?”  I started to speak and had to pause because it really is a difficult question to tackle.  There are too many variables in play to write a playbook of where to start the implementation and each situation is unique.  I have literally read thousands and thousands of pages on the Toyota Production System and in all those books I have never found a clear starting point for implementation.  The closest I found was Taichi Ohno’s story and as I have said before, his implementation to me was more a matter of necessity than ingenuity.

So where does one begin?  I believe you first have to ask yourself a hundred questions to see where you are at.  Over the next few blogs, I would like to explore some of the questions that I feel are most important in deciding where you should start.

Organizational or Departmental Implementation?

These two types of implementation are drastically different.  The complexity alone of trying to do an organizational implementation is much greater than trying to simply do a departmental implementation.  In my ideal world, I would prefer to introduce Lean into one department and expand it through the organization from there.  But that doesn’t mean that makes it easy.  I recently worked at a company that did a Department Implementation first and then expanded it throughout the organization.  I happened to be in one of the last areas to implement a version of TPS within the organization.  As a leader, it created many challenges for me working with individuals that had been learning and practicing Lean for years ahead of me.

The first challenge was that I always felt behind the pack.  Executive leadership saw the positives from the other plants and wanted instant results from the plants that were just starting their journey.  This put a lot of pressure on the front line management and forced us to focus more on the results of our KPI’s than on our learning and development of our team members.  Everyone seemed to have forgotten that the other plant was 10 years (literally) ahead of us on our Lean Journey and expected us to learn that 10 years of change in a matter of weeks.  I can’t say that I blame them.  When you have the pressure of the Board of Director’s not to mention the Stockholders breathing down your neck, it is kind of natural to want to see results as quickly as possible.  The problem is that a Lean transformation is more about changing a culture than it is getting results.  Let me give an example of what I mean.

One of the first things that was introduced across the corporation was the Hour x Hour chart.  For those not familiar, it simply states that Takt time for the given line, the amount needed to be produced and how much the line actually produced.  On the right side it has a place to write down the issues that kept you from meeting the Takt time.  This way the Supervisor and Engineers can fix the problems to increase the Operational Availability of the line.  The big problem was the assumption that by simply introducing this tool without proper training and a standard process for using it we would yield incredible results.  Guess what: It didn’t work!!!!

Now anyone that knows me and comes from the company will say, “What are you talking about?  We did training and training and training on the hour x hour chart and people simply didn’t use it right!”  You are correct about doing hours and hours of training on filling it out but we surely didn’t do a good job of training on what to do with what we collected.  We fell in the trap of what I have seen in many companies across the U.S.  We implemented the tool without teaching our team members the philosophy and Kata (method) of using it.  We did this over and over.  Standard Work, PDCA’s, A3’s, Value Stream Mapping, Discussion Forms, Kamishibai Boards, Kan Ban’s, Kaizen’s, 5S, Production Stores, Withdrawl Stores, the list goes on and on and on.  My favorite note is that we could always tell what chapter of The Toyota Way books the managers were reading by directions we were being given.

We continually failed at doing the basics of TPS.  Setting a clear target that everyone understood from the top down.  In the case of the Hour x Hour chart, identifying the largest issues impacting our success so that we could see the problem happen first hand, funnel cloud it down to the root cause, make a correction and check to see if the problem was really fixed.  In honest reflection, what we actually did was walk by the chart and signed our names to it so that the team members knew we were watching it so that they would keep filling it out.  The only focus we gave to it was whether or not they were meeting the takt time or not.

Looking back, I see several things we could have improved upon.  For starters, anytime that we were learning a new tool to implement, we (the management team) would take a trip to another plant that was “successfully” using the tool.  We would spend anywhere from hours to days studying the use of the tool and spend hours in a conference room learning the “proper technique”.  In the case of the hour by hour chart this included what kind of pens from Staples to use in which colors so that we were all standardized.  We would then go back to our home plant and implement the tool to our teams.  In a morning huddle, we would take 10 minutes to explain the tool to the team.  Remember, it took our sister plants years to master this but we can do it in a matter of minutes.  Talk about becoming Lean!   We would then observe our teams using the tool and get frustrated that only one or two of them could grasps the basics of it and hand over responsibility of the tool to those select individuals.

Now I feel the trip’s to the sister plants were important.  What better way to learn a tool than by visiting somewhere that it is being utilized.  But maybe, we should have brought some of their team members back with us to help implement the tool in our home departments.  I believe that the shop floor workers would have been more open and willing to learn the entirety of the tool from a peer rather than the way we rolled it out.  The guest team member would be able to answer their questions better than we could simply because they probably had the same questions and could explain to our team members “what’s in it for them”.  This would also spread expertise throughout the organization rather than having “benchmark” plants.

Bottom line is that we failed to have a Kata (process) for introducing learning into new departments.  Between the two choices above I still feel that a departmental implementation is far better than trying to transform an entire companies culture at once.  The key is having a Kata for transferring that knowledge from one department to another that is effective for both parties involved.  This does not mean that Upper Management shouldn’t be involved in the roll out of lean in their organization.  In fact, it shows why it is so critical that they be involved from the onset.  They will learn more and more from each roll out which in turn will develop the organizations Kata for implementation.  Each roll out will be a true learning experience for the Upper Management as it is for the department being effected.  A true Kata will keep in check a time line as well.  Not necessarily for how quickly it takes a department to go down it’s journey, but as a reminder to the leadership that it doesn’t happen overnight.

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A Man By Any Other Name…

Shop Floor Tom.

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Anyone who has worked on the shop floor has a million stories of the things that they have witnessed.  This is one of my favorite personal experiences.  I was working for a company that really did value its employees.  A company that I was proud to work for because it not only allowed me to work with great people but also allowed us to become part of each others lives.  Ironically, even in this great atmosphere of brotherhood, simple mistakes will happen.

I had the pleasure of a team member transferring in from another department by the name of Heriberto.  He had been with the company for at least 20 years and had literally worked with 100’s of people during his career.  He was loved by all because he had a kind heart and a great work ethic.  He had a wonderful attribute of staying out of “shop floor” politics which is not easy to do in today’s society.  I had worked with him for months when my team decided to mess with me and teach me a lesson I would never forget.

One day Herb’s partner called me over to the booth they were working in and asked me “Why do you keep calling him the wrong name?”  I didn’t understand what she was talking about and she asked me again.  I said well his name is Herb and that’s what I call him so I don’t get your question.  She informed me that his actual name was Ed and that I was calling him the wrong name.  I was absolutely confused.  I asked Herb what his name was and while laughing he told me his name was Ed.  This needed an explanation.  Ed informed me that when he first started working at the company, people found Heriberto too long of a name so they started calling him Herb.  I asked how “Ed” played into this since to me it made sense that Herb was short for Heriberto.  Ed then taught me that the actual translation of Heriberto was Ed.

I asked him why he never corrected anyone and he informed me that after trying to get people to call him the right name for so long he had just finally given up and started answering to Herb.  I asked him what he went by at home and he told me “Eddy”.  I instantly thought back to an occasion where I met Ed’s family at a funeral and felt shame for calling him Herb.  He smiled and told me that they were use to it.  I assured him that from now on I would call him his correct name and went back to my desk.  While there I pulled out his file and looked at the transition of his name throughout the years working at the company.  His application showed Heriberto and throughout the years all his paperwork had transformed his name into Herb.  In fact, his employee badge listed his name as Herb.  I was shocked.

I walked back over to the booth and asked Eddy to come with me.  We walked up to the security office and I had a new badge made for him with his correct name on it.  I then pulled the entire department together with Ed and apologized to Ed for the whole situation.  I then asked the entire team to not only start using the correct name but to help spread the word.  I remember when we had a group from Ed’s old department come down to help us and they got really upset at Ed’s name change.  His new department stood up for him and were persistent to the others that they call him by the right name.  It took me about three weeks and a lot of reminding but even I learned to call him by his correct name.  Some habits are hard to break!

One might ask, what the heck does this have to do with TPS?  It really is simple.  At the heart of the Toyota Production System is the employee.  Often we forget this.  If one can not even take the time and effort to call someone by their correct name, how can we expect them to believe that we care about their development and contributions to the company.  Can you imagine going to work everyday for 20+ years being called the wrong name?  Bottom line, there is no excuse.  We must keep our people as a priority and treat them with the greatest of respect.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hold them accountable, simply we should give them the respect that they deserve.

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Toyota Production System vs. Six Sigma vs. Lean Manufacturing

A diagram showing the PDCA Cycle

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I want to start out with stating I am a master of nothing and a student of everything.  I enjoy being part of several discussion groups around the concepts of “Lean Manufacturing” and have improved my skills not necessarily from the “System” being used but rather the thoughts and ideas of the people using them.  Just for fun I want to share my thoughts and ideas on each of the three “System’s” listed above.

Toyota Production System

In my view, TPS is the ultimate continuous improvement system ever developed.  Out of the three, I would not even refer to it as a system but rather a culture.  Much like most major achievements in manufacturing, TPS was developed out of necessity rather than ingenuity.  If I had to humbly give a definition of what I think TPS is, I would refer to it as:  A unified culture of diverse people utilizing a standard process of problem solving handed down and improved upon through generations in order to improve processes on a daily basis. Here is how I have come up with that definition.

When referring to the unified culture, Toyota’s success has been in creating a culture within their organization that crosses the entire organization.  I love the analogies of “red hats” and “blue hats”.  It is very effective in explaining other companies issues with cross-company improvements and thinking.  In the companies that I have worked for you can always feel an us vs. them attitude which does absolutely nothing positive for the company.  I have never worked at Toyota, but from my extensive reading and researching of them I have always gotten the impression that everyone wears the same color hats.  It seems that’s just the way it is.  It is part of it’s culture.  That is where the diverse people come in.  It doesn’t matter whether you are an engineer, a shop rat, a model maker or a salesperson your job is to continually improve the processes and ultimately the company.

The standard process of problem solving is probably the most mistaken concept of TPS in American companies.  When I reflect back to my learning, I can’t help but laugh at the memories of being able to tell which chapter of which book our managers were reading by the directions they were handing down to the supervisors.  When they read about PDCA’s, we instantly had to go out and write five PDCA’s a week to meet our performance plans.  When they read the chapter on standard work, our focus instantly shifted to writing 100’s of standard work sheets throughout the shop.  Needless to say we killed a lot of trees but we never accomplished much!  The best phrase I recently read was in reference to the Toyota Kata.  It is an ingrained method for training and mentoring individuals at Toyota.  In the US, we often look for right or wrong answers.  At Toyota, it appears they are more focused on the learning of the individual.  This Kata, is the foundation of the continuous improvement process at Toyota.  By ensuring that all employees learn it, know it and practice it, they ensure continual improvement in all of their processes.

The fact that this culture is handed down and improved upon through generations is what ultimately lets Toyota succeed and other companies struggle and fail with implementation.  Since Toyota is improving processes on a daily basis, we are continually falling further behind simply trying to learn what they have already figured out.  We tend to have tunnel vision in simply trying to figure out what they have done rather than focusing on the problems that we should be trying to solve.

The Toyota Production System is really rather simple to me: go see the problem first hand, identify the root cause of the problem, develop the solution to the problem, reset the standard for the process and follow-up to ensure that you have truly eliminated the problem.  When you finish with that, start the next one.  I am not avoiding the fact that Toyota has created hundred’s of tools to help this process.  I simply feel that these tools are simply tools to help enhance the system.  Just because you use all the tools of TPS doesn’t make you successful and simply because you are not using all the tools available from Toyota doesn’t make you a failure.  The measure of true success with TPS is the training, development and advancement of your employees problem solving skills.  The more proficient at problem solving your employees are, the more successful your company will be.

Six Sigma

I really don’t know a lot about TPS and I know even less about Six Sigma.  This is what I feel I know about it.  It is developed for implementation within an engineering minded culture.  It truly utilizes facts and data to determine what is the best solution to utilize.  Where TPS is focused on the advancement of employees problem solving skills, Six Sigma is focused on having a standard way of identifying problems and what course of action should be utilized.  Let there be no doubt that Six Sigma is a highly successful system for problem solving, but you have to have a certain mindset in order to utilize it.  The level of understanding required for this shows the great differences between Six Sigma and TPS.

Lately, there has been a lot of focus on your “certification” level in Six Sigma.  There are multiple “belts” all the way up to a Master Black Belt.  On the other hand, TPS has no certifications because you can never be a “Master” of continuous improvement.  This is very important to understand when contemplating the “system” you want to implement.  In order to be successful in Six Sigma, you must be able to “master” numbers and data.  It is based on extremely complex math equations that only certain people can do.  It is also limited to only those individuals that can afford the schooling and training.  Sure, companies can train employees but let’s be realistic.  When experiencing economic recessions training is the first thing to go.  Also, no matter how much training you give some people, they would never be able to succeed in the Six Sigma world.  TPS is universal.  It can be taught to anyone and the premise of the system is very simplistic.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not a “hater” or against Six Sigma.  I just feel it is extremely limited on who can utilize it and therefore difficult to implement company wide.  This leads to needing experts within your organization which limits and stifles the creativity and ideas of all employees.  Hey, maybe that is why we need red hats and blue hats!  When utilizing Six Sigma, you are only going to be able to improve based on what the experts say rather than by everyone contributing.

Lean Manufacturing

In my opinion and only my opinion, I think it would be impossible to define Lean Manufacturing.  It has become a universal title for whatever program a company is utilizing for improvement.  The improvement could be in a multitude of areas: safety, cost, quality, margin, stock price, sales, through put, the list goes on and on.  My studies and research has brought me to the conclusion that Lean Manufacturing is an American term that has been bastardized by anyone that has spoken it.  To me, what it lacks is a standard or benchmark to measure against.  When discussing Lean Manufacturing it always encompasses the concept of improvement but the definition of the improvement is open to those in charge.  In contrast TPS is more focused on the process of problem solving rather than the actual change that takes place.  This is why Toyota has left most of us behind shaking our heads wondering where we went wrong.

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The Epic Journey

Last resting place, Elgol. This old tractor se...

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In each of our lives, we are blessed with an epic journey that is our own, unique path of life.  For me, I am beginning to realize that I have crested the mountain and on the downside of the journey.  As I look back, I realize it has been quite a journey and yet there is so much more that I look forward to discover.  Call this an online diary,  a therapeutic log or simply a place to store my thoughts and ideas.  Whether shared with no one or shared with the world it is my log.  For me, the ultimate place for reflection.

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