Wednesday, September 9, 2015

“No Problem is Problem”

I’m not sure to whom credit for that statement belongs.  I suspect it is one that originates in the Japanese culture, part of their corporate wisdom.  In the world of Lean, the statement has always been understood to mean, “the (apparent) absence of a problem IS a problem.”  

The statement implies that we float in a virtual sea of problems and to say there is “no problem” is to lie; or, to be more Politically Correct, that we’re sweeping our problems under the rug.

Further implied in the statement is that, if we sweep our problems under the rug, if we hide them from others, we diminish, at least by one, the number of minds working to eliminate the problem.  How can that be good?

There is another quotation often cited in Lean: “A defect is a treasure.”  I have always found this statement to further illuminate the meaning of the first.

When I first tried to wrap my mind around how a defect could be something I treasured, I came to the realization that, once discovered the defect could be targeted and its source eliminated; that, until it was discovered, the defect could repeat over and over.  

However, once recognized and the problem’s root cause identified, many minds could be employed to eradicate the source all together.  Hence, finding that defect led to the elimination of all such defects, making the discovery of the defect a treasure.

These seeming contradictions are plentiful in Lean.  I have grown to enjoy them.  They force me to ponder their meaning and that makes me stronger in my pursuit of continuous improvement: not only of processes, but of myself.

Let me come full circle, though.  Isn’t the hiding of a problem something common in US business (and in personal lives, as well)?  Whether we want to present the image that “I’ve got things under control;” or, whether we’re trying to convey the image of our business (or our lives) being a smooth surface with no ripples, either is a lie.

Problems are a part of life.  To deny their existence; or, to present the image that “we’ve got our problems under control,” is to misrepresent the truth.  

As we tell our kids, when you don’t deal with a problem right away, it has a tendency to fester and grow worse.  If that’s true, aren’t we better off to admit our problems and seek help?

And, as leaders, don’t we create healthier, happier work places when workers can admit to problems they’re having and request help without recrimination?  I think so.  How about you?  What do you think?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fun With 5S - The Garage Game

 When I’m introducing 5S to a new audience, I like to get them comfortable with the concept.  I ask how many have a garage.  Usually about 2/3 of the audience will.  I then ask them to name the two most expensive things they own.  Their car is usually on that short list.  Then I ask: “Where do you park your car?”

This question always draws nervous laughter.  You see, most people store their 1st or 2nd most valuable possession in the driveway, outside the garage.  Why?  Because their garage is full of … well, stuff.

For those who didn’t have a garage, I ask them to think of a storage area: basement, attic, closet, shed or even rental unit.  Then I give everyone two sticky notes and have them write down two things that are in their storage area.

Virtual Garage
I collect the notes and put them inside an open square I’ve  drawn on the whiteboard.  I jam all those sticky notes into the virtual “garage.”  

As I put them in, I read them out to the audience.  That always draws laughs, as we’ll invariably get three lawnmowers or whacky things like baby buggies from empty nesters.

Then I create three additional areas on the board: Sell, Donate and Trash.

For the next 20 minutes we go item by item through the sticky notes.  I take them out of the garage and put as many as possible in the three new areas.  Then, we carefully put the items that we intend to go in the garage in the “right” place, based on the frequency of its use: refer to my post on Distance vs. Frequency Charts.

While I’m doing this, I make a point of explaining how valuable “donating” is.  For the individual, it creates a tax write off, and, if they’ve got a lot of … stuff, that can help offset some serious income.  It can be even more valuable for a company.  Don’t just think about the tax consequences of the donation.  Think about what you’re doing for your community and the “good will” you’re building for your company.

I once had a company donate 15 computers to a local school.  The school couldn't afford them, but now could set up a computer lab.  What a difference that made to their students!

It’s funny, when I use this tool, participants will often come up to me within a few days and tell me privately: “I went home and 5S’ed my garage,” or, “I went home and 5S’ed my kitchen.”  

People can connect with the Garage Game.  Try it and find out.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Distance vs. Frequency Chart

In a 5S Kaizen event, we eliminate as much from the work area as we can.  What remains, we locate as close to the Point of Use (POU) as possible.  

One of the tools we use to determine where to locate things is the Distance vs. Frequency Chart.   

We start by monitoring the tools used at the station in the course of performing that job.  Using a check sheet, we simply tick off each time that tool is used.  

Using a Spaghetti Diagram (discussed in a previous post), we record the distance the operator walks to get it.  

Putting the two together, we create the Distance vs. Frequency Chart.

Now, we get a picture of how we’re wasting time.  If we look at the tallest bar in the chart, we see that the operator walks five feet to get that particular tool; not all that far, but they do it 140 times a day.  

What did we learn?  By knowing how often we use something, and how far we travel to get it, we get a good idea of how to reorganize our workplace.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume that tool you’re walking to get is a three-hole punch.  You get up from your desk an average of 140 times each day to use that communal punch.  Does that make sense?

Now, before you move the hole punch closer to you, or purchase one for your desk, ask yourself: why am I punching holes in the first place?  Is there a smarter way to do this job?

Consider creating a file and folder on your computer or on a shared drive.  Save the same document (as PDF or Word document) in that file in such a way that it is searchable multiple ways: e.g. by date, by title, by client, etc.

The Distance vs. Frequency Chart illustrates, once again, that knowledge is power.  As soon as we know what’s happening we can take steps to remedy the problem.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spaghetti Diagrams

What’s a spaghetti Diagram you ask?  It’s a really nifty tool that maps the movements of an individual operator during the making of one product.  

The map begins with a floor layout.  Then, each time the operator walks, you draw a line from where they started to where they end up.  See the “Before” diagram below.  REFERENCE: RM = Raw material; FG = Finished Goods.

The diagram below is a simple one.  For intricate assemblies, involving lots of movement, the lines cross so often that the result is something that looks like a plate of spaghetti; hence, the name.

Remember that Excess Movement is one of the original 7 Wastes.  In the “Before” diagram below, movement doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.  The operator only moves 81 feet to complete one product.  Not bad, right?

Now, look at the “After” diagram below.  By simply rearranging the same equipment, we’ve been able to reduce Excess Movement to 10 feet.  So what?

The time not spent walking is time spent making product.  Going back to the original premise that “Value is anything for which the customer will reimburse you,” there is no value in movement; it doesn’t make the product any more valuable.  

Premise #2: “Any cost not borne by your customer comes out of your profit.”  Hence, any reduction in  movement is a reduction in YOUR cost.

An example might help.  I once worked with a computer cabinet maker.  The sheetmetal components were large and scattered around the workstation.  A spaghetti diagram revealed that the operator walked over a quarter of a mile in the assembly of one cabinet.

Let’s do the math.  If a human walks at a rate of 3 MPH, then a quarter of a mile takes five minutes to walk.  Removing the walk time, by placing all the components within arms reach, this operator was able to assemble one more cabinet a day.  Not only did we remove cost, we increased productivity.  Oh, and the operator exerted less work in the making of the products.  Everyone won.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dealing with "Monuments"

“What’s a monument?” you ask.  

Most organizations have large pieces of equipment that weigh tons, are often half submerged or above the roof, sometimes contain liquids (like plating chemicals), usually process in batch and would cost a bundle to move.  Those are monuments.

As we start to reorganize our Value Streams to create “pull,” we move smaller pieces of equipment closer together, usually within arms reach of each other.  Not so the monuments.  How then do we deal with them?

I can offer two suggestions.  I’d enjoy hearing how some of you have dealt with them.

Suggestion 1: Rearrange your smaller pieces of equipment around the monument.  Arrange them in such a way that the monument is in the correct process order.

Suggestion 2: Treat the monument as a “curtain” operation.

Rearranging is a great option if the monument only services one operation; or, if there is room to rearrange all the operations served in a way that has the equipment radiating out from the monument likes spokes in a wheel.  

Curtain Operations leave the monument in place and continue to move the work to and from it.  Using this method, one treats the monument as if it’s behind a curtain: a’ la The Wizard of Oz.  The product goes behind the curtain today and comes out tomorrow.  We break the Value Stream at the curtain.  The previous processes end at the curtain; subsequent processes resume when the product exits.

An example might help: A metalworking firm I worked with made the decision to get out of the plating business.  It was too expensive, not their core competence, and their equipment was outmoded.  Instead, they sent their work out to a local plater with the understanding that, what the plater picked up today, MUST be returned tomorrow, or financial consequences would ensue.

So, all the other process equipment was relocated into a ‘U’ close to the receiving dock.  The first half of the Value Stream would complete all its processes, then stage the product for pickup by the plater.  Meanwhile, the second half of the Value Stream finished what the plater delivered today.  In this example, there was a planned 24 hour gap between the first and second halves of the Value Stream.

Relying on outside suppliers in the middle of a process can be problematic, but problems are just opportunities disguised as  inconveniences.

For instance, in the plating example above, the metalworking firm soon found that the plater sometimes lost their parts in the tanks.  When that happened, the metalworker missed its delivery commitments.  How did they cope with that?  The metalworker created a cart for each type of part to be plated.  Each cart was designed to hold a specific number of parts.  That number matched what the metalworker needed to ship the following day and, yes, it was always the same amount.

The carts eliminated both guesswork and counting for both parties.

When the plater picked up the cart, they could tell at a glance if the cart was full.  Same with the metalworker when the plater dropped the cart off the following day.  The cart became a Poka-Yoke (mistake proofing) device.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kamishibai (紙芝居) Boards

Kamishibai is another of those Japanese terms that doesn’t translate easily into English.  The concept is simple, but only recently duplicated in the Western World.  Why learn about it?  Because the Kamishibai board is a very powerful visual management tool.

A little history.  Originally Kamishibai were used by Japanese monks as moral storytelling tool.  Their use began around the 12th century.  The tool was comprised of a small wooden theater with a opening in its center.  A paper scroll was exposed, frame by frame, in this center opening, so that only one picture at a time was visible.  While the picture was exposed, the monk told a story.  The combination of picture and words conveyed the moral pith.

What is a Kamishibai Board?  Scroll forward a few centuries and we get a modern use of the tool.  The most simple explanation is that a Kamishibai board is that it is a visual tool used to tell the story of an area’s readiness. 

How does it work?  The board holds a series of pockets in which cards are placed.  Each card has an instruction on it, telling its reader, typically a manager, something they need to inspect.  Well written cards also contain instructions on what “good” looks like.

Finally, the card has colored sides: e.g. red and green.  If the area being inspected passes, the card is replaced in its pocket, green side facing out.  If the area fails, the card is replaced, red side facing out.  

Constant Vigilance  The focus of each card is chosen to examine area weak spots  where constant vigilance is required.

Not every card needs to be used every day.  They can be chosen at random or taken in sequence.  When the manager is finished, the board “tells a story” about the area’s readiness.  Area managers pay attention to the board and correct any deficiencies as quickly as possible.  The board keeps everyone on their toes and ensures constant vigilance.  

The use of Kamishibai boards is just one more way that Lean practitioners maintain focus on the things that are important.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Large Room Management (大部屋 Obeya)

A lot of Americans bridle at the use of Japanese terms to describe Lean things.  I feel very much the opposite.  Language springs from cultures and shared experiences.  So, when I use a Japanese word, it's because it describes something that isn't the same as terms we recognize.  Obeya (Oh-Bay-Ah) is such a term.  We think we know what it means, but do we?  Let's check.

Most in the Western world are familiar with the “War Room” concept.  Originally, it was a tent and later a room.  It was rimmed with maps and bulletins about the enemy.  It was a place where allies gathered to plan strategy and tactics against their common enemy. 

The War Room concept was later modified for business and became a room where those planning (and often executing) a project gathered to share updates.  Walls were covered with graphs, drawings and Gantt Charts, and participants were welcome to wander in and out between scheduled updates. 

Much like the War Room, the Asian Obeya or “Large Room” is a place for members of a team to gather, but there are some significant distinctions.
  • Occupancy:  The “Large Room” (Obeya) isn’t just a place to meet.  In addition to meeting there, team members usually occupy the Large Room full-time.  This becomes where they work.
  • Cross-Functional:  The team of occupants usually represent all the disciplines involved in the execution of a project.  To give you a sense of its use, the Obeya is used by companies like Toyota for the design and execution of a new car.  From concept to launch, members from all the disciplines involved move into the Large Room and take up residence.
  • One Team:  Team members are encouraged to think of themselves as a single team.  While the details of what goes on within the Big Room may not be shared outside it; within it, everyone is encouraged to see their teammates as part of one large team.
  • Wall Adornments:  Like a war room, the walls of the Large Room are covered with charts and reports, but far more.  It’s typical for disciplines within the larger team to have their own  wall space.  They frequently meet at their part of the wall and discuss their own tactics, advances made, and problems encountered.  Later, the same sub-team charts will be used to brief the larger team, not just the leaders: everyone.
  • Surfacing Problem:  The surfacing of problems is welcomed at all times, but especially in the Large Room process.  With some Japanese companies, problems not only don’t get swept under the rug, everyone is encouraged to surface them.  In this frame of thinking, the identification of a problem leads to its solution.  The solution leads to advances, and often breakthroughs.  Hence, bringing a problem to light is seen as a very good thing.
  • Collaboration:  Team members are encouraged to collaborate with members of other teams within the Large Room.  This often solves problems much faster than conventional stovepipe management, and speeds the entire process.  This collaboration is the primary reason for moving all the players into the Large Room.

I’ve posted about Kaikaku in the past.  Different from Kaizen, with it’s narrow focus and tight time frame, a Kaikaku tackles an entire system at once.  Because of the huge scope, a Kaikaku takes weeks, and often months, to complete.  They are usually selected because they frequently lead to industry breakthroughs and may be part of the Hoshin Kanri process.

The Large Room Management style is frequently used to facilitate the Kaikaku process.