Cruise Ship Cabins on an Assembly Line

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines released a cool P.R. video showing the production of cruise ship cabins on an assembly line with a 14 minute(!) takt time.

The key point, for me at least, is that even “big one-off things” can often be broken down into sub-assemblies that have a meaningful takt time of some kind. We have to look for the opportunities for what can be set up to flow vs. reasons why we can’t.

Click Here for the direct link to the page on Royal Caribbean’s press page.


Discussing Challenge and Direction

A manager and his direct report were discussing the challenge and direction for the next round of improvement. The conversation was going around in circles.

The manager was concerned about the excessive overtime, and wanted to establish a challenge to reduce it significantly.

The improver was skipping directly to talking about the things he would have to change in the process – mainly trying to level his demand signal somehow… long before “current condition” had been established… this conversation was just about context.

The manager was frustrated because he knows people habitually jump to solutions instead of first digging into the problem, and he was getting that right now.

The manager was repeating his question “But how can we reduce the overtime.”

Each time the manager asked about the process performance, the improver was offering improvement solutions.

Then I realized… The manager was asking for an improvement solution.

“How can we reduce the overtime?”

I asked him to just ask what he wanted the process to achieve. He still reiterated the same question.

Finally I said “Don’t say ‘how can we.’

Start with “I want…”

“I want the overtime to be 10% or less.”

The tone of the conversation changed immediately, because we really didn’t know what factors were driving the overtime. NOW it is time for the improver to go grasp the current condition (with help from his coach) and establish the next target condition (with help from his coach).

Then he can come back with:

“To keep overtime under 10% , we will need the process to operate like this.”

“Today, it is working like this, and we are running overtime as high as 30% in the worst weeks.”

“As my first step, I intend to…”

And how we’re moving in the right direction.

When the manager was asking “How can we…?” he was asking for a proposed solution right now, even if he didn’t mean to. The answer to a “how can we?” question is “Well, we could…” and we are immediately grasping at possible changes.

Listen to the words you use.

Be clear about what you are actually asking people to do, because that is what you are going to get.

More about Knowing How

A couple of posts down, I reiterated the importance of understanding of how your product is made. If you are in the business of “making things” your ability to improve your product reaches its limit at your level of understanding how to make it. Lean Process and Product Development (below) addresses this same topic.

Now let’s apply this to the management  of production.

In the west, it seems that one of the perks of success is increasing isolation from where the work is done. This may be because western management systems separate the role of “administration” as a generic process from the specialty roles that actually get stuff done. The assumption is that a skilled administrator can successfully administrate just about anything.

As a result, perhaps some managers strive to detach themselves from the details of “getting stuff done” as an unconscious effort to increase their status. They shift to administration type tasks.

These tasks tend to relate to driving financial results. The focus and discussions tend to be around “earned hours” and which shipments to pull ahead to invoice for revenue. They involve skills like expediting (meaning queue jumping) the “hot” jobs, or the ones most likely to make an immediate impact on a financial metric.

The problem comes about when production alone tries to resolve revenue shortfalls with these actions. Pulling more work onto the shop floor – starting jobs earlier – might “keep people busy” but the overproduction just hides the fact that sales volume is below production capacity. Now sales not only has to close the initial shortfall (if you want REAL revenue to keep up), but they also have to double up their efforts to re-fill the pipeline. Otherwise, the “earned hours” or “absorption variance” shortfall is just postponed (and made worse) by this kind of action.

Back on the shop floor, there isn’t anyone looking after the system. It is generally assumed to require this continuous intervention to operate at all, the intervention in turn disrupts stability, which escalates the problem.

But even more, I am troubled, frankly, by how many times I have seen production managers have very poor production management skills.

First and foremost is simple systems thinking. By this I mean understanding the consequences of your decision on the overall stability of the process. In other words, if you break it, you are responsible for ensuring it gets fixed. And to be sure, jumping queues, telling workers to break the flow is breaking it. Note that mastery of how the accounting system keeps score is not systems thinking for the production process. And breaking the process to manipulate the cost accounting is… ?

Of course, if these things are “business as usual” then we are teaching people to do these things as a matter of routine, not exception. Chaos ensues, and there is no attempt at all to worry about the consequences. We’ll deal with that the same way tomorrow.

After understand how the system works, there are some very basic things that any manufacturing manager needs to know. Most of these things also apply to non-production processes, but that does take a little more thinking.

Though it is (hopefully) intuitively obvious that level production is more efficient than ramping things up and down every day (hour!), very few production managers make any effort to establish any kind of level pace.

The single most popular post on this site is “Takt Time – Cycle Time.” I initially wrote it to make the point that the term “cycle time” is ambiguous and we need to be clear about which definition we mean when we use the term, and that we need to understand the “Why?” behind takt time vs. taking a blind, rote approch. Take a look at the comments chain. It isn’t about the questions being asked so much as who is asking them. Whose job is it to understand production management in these organizations?

You may not have a “takt time” in the literal sense, but you do have a rate that things must be done in order to succeed by the end of the day.

Unless you have infinite flexibility, every process was designed around some level of capacity (which means a rate!), even if by accident. But, all too often, I see managers making decisions about hiring more people, buying more equipment, even putting on extra shifts, without doing the underlying math of what capacity is required, what capacity they have, defining the gap, identifying the obstacles, and then deciding on countermeasures. (with “more stuff” as an absolute last resort)

It isn’t about “how many we have to make.”

It is about “how fast should we be making them?”

This, I guess, is the nuance that gets lost.

Keep Calm and Learn to Think

Lean Process and Product Development: The Role of the Leader

The LEI was kind enough to send a review copy of their new book, the second edition of Lean Process and Product Development. I have just started it, and am already finding gems. (note to the LEI – the Kaizen Institute is not my address. Thanks to Jon for getting the book to me.)

The original edition was a cleaned up manuscript that was published well after the death of Allan Ward, and bore only his name on the cover.

This edition adds Durward Sobek to the author line. Sobek was a student of Ward and today stands on his own as someone whose views should be respected.

I am not going to try to compare the two editions, rather look at this new book as it stands on its own.

Rather than wait and write a big long review, I am going to publish short posts as I come across key points of note – hence the subtitle of this post.

I am already seeing a tight link to the leadership model outlined in Toyota Kata.

In the 2nd chapter, as the authors discuss Value and Performance of development projects (as in how efficiently they create profitable value streams and create usable knowledge for future projects), I came across a compelling quote:

A general manager of Toyota’s Advanced Vehicle Development department was asked how he spent his time.

He replied he spent about 2 hours a week doing administrative work, and the rest of the time “on technical problems.” Before I remark about the “technical problems” consider the first bit. How much time do your department heads spend administering vs. contributing to the development of the organization?

And that leads to the second part. He says:

“But every technical problem is also a personnel problem, because the problems don’t get to me if my people know how to solve them. So all of the time I’m working on technical problems, I’m also teaching someone.

To paraphrase the next paragraph in the book, the solution to personnel problems is to teach.

So I’ll digress from this book a bit here, and read between the lines a bit. If we go back to David Marquet’s sketchcast video he talks about the necessity of creating an environment where your people need to discover the answer, or “you’re always the answer man, and you can never go home and eat dinner.” (This is really hard when you know the answer, by the way.)

So already, in the first couple of chapters, we are establishing an environment that doesn’t simply produce engineering designs. Those, I suspect, are an outcome of deliberate processes to build the organizational competence and clarity.

We’ll see. More to come.

Reviving How To Make Things

Almost three years ago I wrote “Don’t Lose How To Make Things.”

In that post, I wanted to emphasize the risks of losing your expertise in the technology and skill required to make your product. Too many companies today seem to be bent on replacing those skills with financial ones.

Today I came across a fascinating article on Bloomberg’s site about how Toyota has come to the same conclusion.

You can read it here: ‘Gods’ Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs From Robots.

In short, they have established workshops where workers manually produce parts that are normally made by automated processes.

A worker welds an automobile part in the chassis manufacturing department at a Toyota Motor Corp. plant in Toyota City.

The idea is to maintain understanding of how things are made so they do not lose the skill required to improve their production processes.

“Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,” said Takahiro Fujimoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Manufacturing Management Research Center. “Mechanization itself doesn’t harm, but sticking to a specific mechanization may lead to omission of kaizen and improvement.”

One result?

In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota’s Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line 96 percent from its length three years ago.

Toyota has eliminated about 10 percent of material-related waste from building crankshafts at Honsha. Kawai said the aim is to apply those savings to the next-generation Prius hybrid.

Today’s financially driven managers are unlikely to allow the space to experiment and learn. Instead, they want a deterministic process so next quarter’s results can be forecast accurately. It isn’t good to surprise the analysts.

At the same time, though, companies are pressing for things like “innovation.” That doesn’t happen in a breakthrough. It happens through the rigorous application of the skill of expanding knowledge. Once enough knowledge is accumulated, expertise develops and innovation follows.

Years ago, when I was working for a company making heavy equipment, one of our Japanese consultants (who had worked many years directly for Taiichi Ohno) urged our engineers to hand-form sheet metal parts – with hammers(!). We didn’t do it. But now I understand what he was trying to get us to do.

What Is “Lean?”

I did a Google search on the terms [ lean manufacturing definition ]   . Here is a smattering of what I found on the first page of results. (I did not go on to the second page.)

On the site we get a page with about 10 paragraphs describing the general outcome, philosophy, and what it isn’t.

On a consultant’s web page we get a list of principles and terminology definitions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Lean manufacturing is a business model and collection of tactical methods that emphasize eliminating non-value added activities (waste) while delivering quality products on time at least cost with greater efficiency.”

Tooling U defines “lean manufacturing” like this: “An approach to manufacturing that seeks to reduce the cycle time of processes, increase flexibility, and improve quality. Lean approaches help to eliminate waste in all its forms.”

Another consultancy has a PDF of “Lean Sigma Definitions” that includes Lean Manufacturing or Lean Production: “the philosophy of continually reducing waste in all areas and in all forms; an English phrase coined to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques (specifically, the Toyota Production

Let’s Rewind a Bit

What all of these definitions have in common is they are attempting to describe some kind of end state.

Over the last 10 years or so we (meaning those of us who are doing top drawer research) have put together a pretty comprehensive picture of how Toyota’s management systems are intended to work. (I say “intended to” because we are always dealing with an idealized Toyota. They have issues as well, just like everyone.)

What we seem to try to do is try to create a generic context-free definition of what Toyota is doing today.

But they didn’t start out that way. Everything they are, and do, evolved out of necessity as they struggled to figure out how to take the next step.

Toyota didn’t engineer it, so I don’t think it is something we can reverse engineer. Toyota evolved it organically. They applied a common mindset (a dedication to figuring things out) to a specific goal (ideal flow to the customer) in a specific set of conditions.

So What is “Lean?”

Mike Rother makes a really interesting attempt at resetting the definition of “lean” as being about the drive and the mindset that resulted in Toyota’s management system.

Give it a read, then let’s discuss below. (Since you are going to see it – when he sent it around for input, I passed along a thought which he has added verbatim in the last slide. Maybe that will spark a little more discussion.)


OK, are you back?

I like this because I think anyone who adopts the mindset that they (and I mean “they” as a true plural here) must take it upon themselves to figure out what they do not know, figure out how to learn it, figure out how to apply it, all in a relentless pursuit of perfect flow will end up with a nimble, empowering, relentlessly improving, formidably competitive team of people.

Focus on the process of learning, focus on the people, and keep them focused on the customer, and you’ll get there.

In my experience, the differentiator between organizations that “get there” and those who don’t comes down to the willingness to work hard to learn it themselves vs. wait for someone to tell them the answers.

Thoughts? Maybe we can take the “most comments” record away from the “Takt Time Cycle Time” post.  *smile*

Upcoming Jeff Liker Webinar: ”What the brain sciences teach us about Lean”

Just a quick note…

Jeff Liker (of the “Toyota Way” series of books) is putting on a webinar on March 13, 1pm Eastern Daylight Time titled “What The Brain Sciences Teach Us About Lean.”

The fields of psychology and neuroscience are advancing very rapidly right now, and we are starting to see practical applications to that knowledge in our field. I’m guessing this will be pretty good.

Here is the registration link: What The Brain Sciences Teach Us About Lean.

I’m not sure my schedule will allow me to participate directly – if any of you watch it, how about writing up a synopsis and sending it to me or commenting below. I’ll publish it as a “guest author” piece and make you famous. Well, at least I’ll publish it.  Winking smile

Jeff Liker: Is Lean a Waste Elimination Program or Striving for Excellence?

Jeff Liker asks (and answers) the title question in a great Industry Week blog article by the same title.

One of the biggest obstacles we in the lean community need to overcome is our own inertia around “Lean is a process for finding and eliminating waste.”

In the article, Liker brings up a point that is often lost on us: Looking for the problems and negative things kills morale.

The “waste” that you see is the result of underlying issues and culture. Stop overproduction in one place, and it either returns or pops up elsewhere because the underlying reasons for it were never addressed.

Operations that are not operating at a high level of lean typically are lacking underlying process discipline, which leads to these problems and they proliferate daily as the company is in a constant firefighting mode. Trying to eliminate waste in the current system and culture is like identifying and fighting problems—it is debilitating and a losing proposition.

[Emphasis added]

I bolded that phrase for a reason.

We aren’t talking about a technical implementation here. We are talking about a shift in the underlying culture – the habitual ways people interact with one another, with the process, respond to challenges and problems.

Today we have, thanks to Jeff Liker and a few others, an excellent picture of an ideal version of Toyota. We know what it looks like.

Getting there is an entirely different proposition, as most companies that have tried this stuff know first hand. It is hard.

What is beginning to emerge, though, is that the thinking pattern that is learned through solving these problems the right way (vs. just implementing tool sets) is the same thinking pattern required to shift the culture.

It is hard. You have to do the work. But the way to get there is emerging.

Flipping Tires

A couple of weeks ago I was talking listening to the owner of a medium-sized manufacturing company as he shared his experience of various “lean” consultants, books, etc.

One of the stories he told was about a kid at football practice. (For my European readers, this is about “American Football.”) The coach had the linemen doing drills that involved flipping over large tractor tires.

Over and over. Wax on, Wax off.

Of course, they weren’t just doing it to flip over big tires. They were learning to get leverage, use the strength of their legs, and the motions of managing momentum.

The kid, though, was complaining about flipping tires and wondering why they just didn’t play.

The danger here is we have people doing the equivalent of sitting in the bleachers watching this football practice. “Ah – they flip tires. We need to flip tires too.”

Right thing, but no context.

What this business owner was, correctly, objecting to was consultants coming in and putting people through tire flipping drills without giving them context… the why? of doing it.

Worse, they had not distinguished between flipping tires and playing the game.

Of course in our continuous improvement worlds, we have to play the game every day, and usually work on our development at the same time.

Still, we need to be clear what things we are doing to facilitate practice and learning, and what it looks like when we are “just doing it.”

Here is a test: Which of these is different from the others:

  1. Hoshin kanri
  2. Kanban
  3. Toyota kata
  4. Standard work
  5. Value Stream Mapping

This may be controversial, but I don’t think “Toyota Kata” belongs on this list.

Toyota Kata is flipping tires. Yes, we are practicing on the field, usually during the game, but it is a method for practice.

The book Toyota Kata and most of the materials out there describe that practice in the context of production systems and process improvement. That works because these are physical processes, and we can see and measure our results.

But Toyota Kata is about learning a habitual thinking pattern. It is the same thinking pattern behind Hoshin kanri. And standard work. And Value stream mapping. And kanban. And leadership development itself.

It is the same thinking pattern behind successful product development, entering new markets, and taking on personal growth and challenge. It is the same thinking pattern behind cognitive therapy.

Don’t confuse Toyota Kata with part of the system. It is how you practice the thinking behind any system (that works). (The same thinking patterns are behind Six-Sigma, Theory of Constraints, TQM, pure research, Toyota Business Practice, Practical Problem Solving, the list goes on.)

The confusion comes in because, in practice, Toyota Kata looks like a tool or part of the system itself. We teach people the theory behind it standard work; we teach people the theory behind Toyota Kata. We go to the shop floor and put it into practice.

The difference is that the standard work is intended to stay there, as a work environment where it is easier to:

  • Define the target condition.
  • See the current condition.
  • Detect obstacles as they occur.
  • Quickly implement isolated changes as experiments and see the results.

Standard work gets into place out of necessity because batching and arbitrary work cycles would be an early obstacle to seeing what is going on.

Kanban does the same thing for materials reorder and movement.

Value stream mapping is a structure for applying the thinking that TK teaches a higher operational context.

Hoshin is a structure for applying the thinking that TK teaches to a strategic context.

I could go on listing just about all of the things in the so-called “toolbox.”

The kids were flipping tires to develop the fundamental skills and strength required for blocking and tackling.

Toyota kata is a structure to develop the fundamental skills required to use any of the “lean tools” correctly.

Hopefully this generated a little thought. Comments anyone?

David Marquet: Turn The Ship Around

A while back, Mike Rother sent around a link to a sketchcast video of a U.S. Navy submarine skipper talking about the culture change aboard his submarine, the USS Santa Fe. I posted and commented on it below, in “Creating an Empowered Team.” If you haven’t watched it, do so now so you have context for the rest of this post.

Since then, I found other presentations by Capt Marquet (pronounced, I have learned, “mar-kay”), read every post on his blog, then bought and read his book Turn the Ship Around.

His message is compelling, and I have been digesting and integrating it for a couple of months now.

The Empowerment Movement

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a big push for “empowerment” and the idea of “self directed work teams.”

Supervisors and managers were re-titled as “coaches.”

Work teams were told they were expected to self-organize to accomplish the work at hand.

I suspect this was yet another case of “benchmark and copy” – observing the attributes of high-performance organizations and trying get the same results by duplicating the description. “They have self-directed work teams, so let’s tell our work teams to self-direct.”

In the classic words of Dr Phil… “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

I have worked with, and in, a few organizations with a very bad taste for their past experiments with “empowerment.”

The Difference between “Involved” and “Committed” Leadership

Obviously some organizations have succeeded at creating work environments where work teams know what has to be done and do it. If that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t have been anyone to benchmark and copy.

Capt Marquet’s book gives us a first experience account of a leader who resolved to change the climate of his organization. Admittedly, he did so out of perceived necessity. (Read the book to get the full story!)

Today, though, when leaders say they are “committed” they usually mean they are willing to fund an effort, allow someone else to carry it out, get updates, and give encouragement. That might work for starting a subsidiary, but it doesn’t work for changing “how things get done.”

What we are talking about here is developing the competence and capability of the organization, step by step, individual by individual, as the primary daily work of leadership.

Capt Marquet describes his struggles, setbacks, how hard it was at times, and the long-term reward of his efforts – unprecedented promotion rates or personal successes among his former officers and crew in the 10 years following his time in command. His primary role was developing people. They happened to be the crew of a nuclear powered submarine.

Over the next few posts, I am going to explore the correlation between David Marquet’s leadership development model and Toyota Kata. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, read the book. It’s an easy read and worth your time.

%d bloggers like this: