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 lean.org 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
System).”

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.

Takt Time: Let’s Do Somebody’s Homework

On the back end of this site, I see the search terms that landed people here. This one showed up yesterday:

"a packaging process works two, 8 hour shifts per day. there are two 15 minutes breaks per shift. daily production requirements are 240 packed units, with a planned machine down time of 30 mins per shift, team has to work 60 mins overtime per shift, it is a 4 member team – calculate takt time"

OK, readers, let’s help him out. What’s the answer?

Why is this phrasing ambiguous if the author of the question is looking for a “right” answer?

Toyota Kata “A3 Problem Solving”

Over the years, I’ve been exposed a number of efforts to “implement A3 problem solving” in various companies. I worked for some of those companies, I’ve observed others.

The results are nearly always the same.

Here are a couple of examples. Let me know if any of these match up with experiences you have had.

Example 1: The company had put many people through “Practical Problem Solving” training and was (ironically) trying to measure how many problem solving efforts were underway.

I was watching a presentation by one of these problem solving teams to management. Their A3 was on a computer, projected onto the screen. They were reporting their “results.” Yet there were large discontinuities in their problem solving flow. The actions they were taking simply did not link back (through any kind of identifiable cause) to the problem they were solving.

The management team listened carefully, applauded their efforts, and moved on to the next topic of their meeting.

Example 2: A different company had a form to fill out called an “MBF” or “Management by Fact.” From the labels on the boxes, it was clearly intended to be structured problem solving. By the time I worked there, however, “MBF” had become a verb. It was a solo activity, filling out the form at the desk, and reporting on it in a staff meeting.

Example 3: Well-meaning former Toyota team members, now working for a different large company wanted to “train everyone in problem solving.” They put together a “class” that presented the purpose of each block on their A3 form with the expectation that people would adopt the process.

All of these efforts had something in common.

They didn’t work.

Over the last few days, I’ve been privileged to be included in an email exchange about the relationship between A3 and Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata. My small contribution was apparently enough to get my name onto the cover, but I want to give a real nod in the direction of a Jenny Snow-Boscolo for instigating inspiring a really good exchange.

The result is here. I think this presentation does a really good job of summing up the relationship between Toyota Kata and Toyota A3. Thanks to Mike Rother for taking the initiative and putting it all together (more below)

One of the difficulties with gaining insight into Toyota’s management processes is that they really aren’t codified. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Look at your own company, and ask how much of the culture – the reflexive way things are done and interactions are structured – is written down.

(In fact, if it is written down, I would contend it is likely your actual culture has little resemblance to what is written about it. Those things tend to be more about what they wish the culture was.)

Culture, any culture, is learned through daily interaction. This is all well and good in cases where people are immersed in it from the beginning.

But the rest of us aren’t operating in that problem solving culture. Rather, we are trying to create it. And as the former Toyota Team Members from Example 3 (above) learned, it isn’t a simple matter of showing people.

Rather than two different things, we are looking at a continuum here. At one end is the culture described on Slide 9. There isn’t any formal structure to it, the process for teaching it isn’t codified. It is learned the same way you learn the way to get the job done in any company. They just learn different things than you did.

But in another organization there is no immersion. If there is anyone who is steeped in The Way, they are few and far between.

In these cases, we want to start with something more overt. And that is the purpose of having a rote drill or kata. It isn’t something you implement. It is a structure, or scaffold, to learn the basic moves. Just as mastering the musical scales is only a prelude to learning to play the instrument, the kata is the foundational structure for learning to apply the underlying thinking patterns.

So… if you are working on kata, it is critical that you are reflecting on your thinking patterns as much (or more) than you are reflecting on your improvements. It might seem rote and even busywork at first. But it is there to build a foundation.

Navigating the Learning Hairball

Credit: A lot of stuff comes across my screen, sometimes more than once. I have seen this illustration several times, but don’t remember where it originally came from. If you created it, PLEASE comment so I can give appropriate credit.

Improvement is messy. Science is messy. Research and Development is messy. These are all cases where we want an outcome, are pretty sure what that outcome looks like, but there isn’t really a clear path to get there.

This illustration has illustrates two very different mindsets.

On the left is how many people believe the improvement / organizational development / learning process works. We set out a phased project plan to transform the organization. We carry out a set of pre-defined steps, and when they are completed, we are at the goal.

Sadly our education process is largely constructed on this model. Take the classes, pass the tests, the student is educated.

This thinking is appropriate when the outcome is something we have done before, like constructing a house. Even if this house is a bit different, the builders have rich experience in carrying out all of the constituent process steps. Further upstream, the designer carefully followed building and construction codes. In those cases, we are applying a rich body of experience (or the documented experiences of others) to reach the end goal.

These tasks can be scheduled and sequenced in a project plan. The steps are known, the result is known.

 

image

On the right is the hairball of learning and discovery.

We know where we are starting.

We know where we want to end up.

We are reasonably certain we can get from Point A to Point B. But we don’t know precisely which detailed steps or experiments will give us the results we need.

We don’t know for sure that the next result will be a forgone conclusion from the next action step.

Each step gives us more information about the next step.

In the world of continuous improvement, we live in an interesting paradox.

We often believe we are operating in the set-piece model on the left. We see a situation, we apply tools to duplicate a solution we have seen work in a similar situation before.

An interesting thing happens at this point. The Real World intervenes, and we discover that the situation was actually more like the right side. We thought we knew the right answers. We might have even been mostly right. But at the detail level, things don’t work quite as we predicted.

Now… if the system has been deliberately set up to flag those anomalies, and we are recording them and being curious to discover what we didn’t understand then we are in learning mode.

But all too often the experts who guided the original installation have moved on, leaving the people executing the process behind. The assumption was “It works, we can go to the next problem.”

The people in the process did what they were told, or guided, to do. We might have even asked for their input on the details. But that process rarely leaves them with additional skills they need to deal with anomalies in ways that make the process more robust.

So they do what they must to get things done. Mostly that means adding some inventory here, some additional checks or process steps there. Over time, the process erodes back to something close to its original state.

Why? Because we thought we knew everything… but were wrong. And didn’t notice.

This model applies to any effort to shift how an organization performs and interacts. We outrun our headlights and take on the Big Change because that company “over there” does it, and we just copy the end result.

What we missed was doing the work.

More about this later.

Standards: Notes On A Whiteboard

image

I saw this on a client’s whiteboard this morning. (Actually I saw it a while ago, but just took the photo.)

By having a clear expectation about what is supposed to happen, they can work to converge the process toward some kind of consistency. The opposite is just accepting whatever happens as OK.

By having a degree of stability, it is easier to see issues and opportunities, that in turn, allow them to set the next level of standard.

He put it up there to remind him when he is distracted in the day-to-day fray that “What are we trying to achieve?” is the important first question to ask.

Remember, there is no dogma. Your choice of words and definitions may vary. But these work for him.

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