Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 2

The day today ended about 10 pm. It is 11 pm now as I write this, which translates to 7 am Pacific Time. I will leave the remaining time zones as an exercise for my European readers. (Hello, Corrie!)

Once we hit the shop floor today we were in “understand the current situation” mode. It turned out to be more difficult than I expected due to a high level of variation, some real, but most self-inflicted, on the line. Yesterday I mentioned my great plan to put the less experienced people on the front line of the cycle time study. Well, I ended up doing that, along with everyone else, since the area we are working is fairly spread out and has 11 people working in it.

After getting our heads around things, we have these areas of focus tomorrow.

  1. Establish an even and visual pitch on the moving conveyor. We need to know when work cycles are supposed to start and end so we have some kind of baseline about where the cycle time issues are. This will help.
  2. Basic 5S and parts presentation in the first position. This guy is responsible for setting the takt for everyone else since he is the one who launches the unit down the conveyor after his stationary build. We might try to move most of his build to the conveyor too. I think it has been on the conveyor in the past because the unit moves through the first pitch without anyone touching it.
  3. Start recording line stops. When, why, how often. Basic understanding of where the problems are.
  4. Detailed work combination analysis of a semi-automated testing operation at mid-line. We know there are disruptions there, but those disruptions cause major distortions to the actual (vs. planned) work cycle, so we need to understand whether the operation even has the theoretical capability to meet takt.
  5. Work on a sub-assembly operation and at least try the concept of building unit-by-unit instead of batching to the weekly published schedule. Stuff is late to the line. It is probably not a capacity issue but rather that capacity being used making stuff other than what is needed right now. This will be a little complicated because they actually feed parts to more than one line position. Thus if they get truly synchronized with their customer, they will not build a unit set of parts because this is a mixed line, and different positions have different products at any given time. Instead they will have to shift their focus from “unit” to their individual main-line customers and build what they need next.

The real overall challenge is that this is a two-day event, and we spent the first day just getting our heads wrapped around all of this. So tomorrow will be busy. But people are learning, and that is the whole point. It is important not to lose sight of the reason we are here. If the host company gains, so much the better, but it is really about the participants learning something we can take back.

And yes, I have been deliberately vague so as not to compromise the host company. They have been at this a long time, and done some very impressive things. This particular area, however, needs work, which I suppose is why we are in it.

The Seventh Flow

Those of you who are familiar with Shingijutsu’s materials and teaching (or at least familiar with Nakao-san’s version of things) have heard of “The Seven Flows.” As a brief overview for everyone else, the original version, and my interpretations are:

  1. The flow of people.
  2. The flow of information.
  3. The flow of raw materials (incoming materials).
  4. The flow of sub-assemblies (work-in-process).
  5. The flow of finished goods (outgoing materials).
  6. The flow of machines.
  7. The flow of engineering. (The subject of this post.)

A common explanation of “the flow of engineering” is “the footprints of the engineer on the shop floor.” I suppose that is nice-sounding at a philosophical level, but it doesn’t do anything for me because I still didn’t get what it looks like (unless we make engineers walk through wet paint before going to the work area).

Common interpretations are to point to all of the great gadgets, gizmos and devices that it does take an engineer (or at least someone with an engineer’s mindset, if not the formal training) to design and produce.

I think that misses the point.

All of those gizmos and gadgets should be there as countermeasures to real, actual problems that have either been encountered or were anticipated and prevented. But that is not a “flow.” It is a result.

My “put” here is that “The Flow Of Engineering” is better expressed as “The Flow of Problem Solving.”

When a problem is encountered in the work flow, what is the process to:

  • Detect that there even is a problem. (“A deviation from the standard”)
  • Stop trying to continue to blindly execute the same process as though there was no problem.
  • Fix or correct the problem to restore (at a minimum) safety and protect downstream from any quality issues.
  • Determine why it happened in the first place, and apply an effective countermeasure against the root cause.

If you do not see plain, clear, and convincing evidence that this is happening as you walk through or observe your work areas, then frankly, it probably isn’t happening.

Other evidence that it isn’t happening:

At the cultural and human-interaction level:

  • Leaders saying things like “Don’t just bring me the problem, bring a solution!” or belittling people for bring up “small problems” instead of just handling them.
  • People who bring up problems being branded as “complainers.”
  • A system where any line stop results in overtime.
  • No simple, on/off signal to call for assistance. No immediate response.
    • If initially getting help requires knowing who to phone, and making a long explanation before anyone else shows up, that ain’t it.
  • “Escalation” as something the customer (or customer process) does when the supplying organization doesn’t respond. Escalation must be automatic and based on elapsed-time-without-resolution.

Go look. How is your “Flow of Problem Solving?

“Packaging” is spelled M-U-D-A

In Mike Wroblewski’s blog “Got Boondoggle?” he comments on just how much packaging and dunnage is not visible in Toyota’s Industrial Equipment plant. Of course that is remarkable because of just how common it is to find the opposite condition. Factories (and offices) have lots of packaging around, and spend lots of time dealing with it.

Toyota has been working on this a long time. They have the added advantage of being an 800 pound gorilla with most of their suppliers. They can specify packaging and insist on things being done a certain way. In a lot of cases it is the supplier that is the 800 pound gorilla, and a lot of small companies have a hard time being heard. But you can still make a lot of difference if you apply the principle that packaging is muda.

A frequently invoked (and overworked analogy) is the assembler or operator as a surgeon. Everything must be ready for the value-add operation to be performed waste free. If there is waste in the process, keep it away from this point. Surgical instruments come in packages. But I can assure you the surgeon is not unwrapping the scalpel. So who is?

The instruments are prepared and made ready for use by the staff.

Now take this to your factory floor. The first step is to keep dunnage and packaging out of the production area. There are actually a lot of advantages to doing this. The chief one is obviously optimizing your value-add time. But all of that packaging also takes up space. EVERYTHING that enters the production area MUST have a process (meaning a person!) to get it OUT of the production area. Since you have to unpackage that stuff anyway, do it before it gets to production. This means that someone else picks the part and prepares it for use just like the staff in the operating room.

Do this and you have applied one of the principles Liker and Meier point out in The Toyota Way Fieldbook – if you can’t eliminate sources of variation, then isolate them. In other words, set up a barrier that contains the waste so that your value-adding operation sees the result of a perfect supplier.

You can then take the next step: Do this at receiving. If the parts do not arrive from the supplier packed the way that your internal material conveyance system needs them, then put the resources into receiving to convert what you get from your suppliers into what you wish you got from them.

This is applying the principle of systematically pushing waste upstream, closer to the point where it originates. The other thing you have done is force yourself to dedicate resources to deal with this waste instead of spreading it so thin the cost is hidden. You will know what it costs you in terms of people, time, space, etc. to deal with the fact that your suppliers don’t ship what you need. By highlighting the problem instead of burying it, you have the opportunity to address it.

One more thing – it might seem easier to take these little wastes and spread them thin. After all, if everybody just does one or two trivial tasks, it doesn’t seem so bad, does it? It is those trivial wastes, those 5 second, 30 second, 1 minute little things that accumulate to half your productivity. It takes work to see them and eliminate them. Don’t add more to the process on purpose.

Invert the Problem

One very good idea-creation tool is “inverting the problem” – developing ideas on how to cause the effect you are trying to prevent. This is a common approach for developing mistake-proofing, but I just saw a great use of the idea for general teaching.

Ask “How could we make this operation take as long as possible?” Then collect ideas from the team. Everything on the flip chart will be some form of waste that you are trying to avoid. In many cases, I think, even the most resistant minds would concede that nothing on this list is something we would do on purpose.

It follows, then, that if we see we are doing it that we ought to try to stop doing it. And that is what kaizen is all about.

Who Took My Grease Pencil?

I was in a popular “Gold Rush” themed restaurant the other night, and they were struggling with a new table assignment system.

In the past the system was very simple. When you arrived, you told them your name, the number in your party. They wrote your name on a list, and gave you a pager. They had a laminated chart of the table layout, and marked tables as occupied, uncleared and available with a grease pencil. As tables became available, they moved down the list, triggered the pager, and took guests to the table. As tables were cleared and bussed, they were reported as available.

No more. Now there is a computer screen with the layout on it. They hand you the pager, and I suppose it gets logged in to “the system” as a party of 2, or whatever. And the computer pages you when an appropriate table is available. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Of course the system is new, and the team was struggling a bit. That is expected, it is unfamiliar. But as we handed in our pager, I commented “I thought the grease pencil worked just fine.” The response was “Tell me about it.”

Now I suppose the technology enables them to track all kinds of great metrics like table turnover, etc. But if it is like most similar software implementations, those benefits are solutions in search of a problem. They are justifications for the expenditure.

I am always very wary when someone proposes to replace a functioning manual process with a computerized one. The main reason is this: The people who do the process no longer can improve it.

With a chart and a grease pencil, the team owns the process and readily understands the (non-) technology behind it. If they find a better way, it is easy for them to make an improvement.

Bury the process in a computer and you take that away. All the team can do is blindly execute whatever the programmer thinks should be happening. Programmers are smart people, but they generally do not have to execute their process hundreds of times a day. Maybe a few times – or even a few days – for testing, but not day after day. They do not, and can not, see the small issues that accumulate to become aggravation.

Before you introduce a “high tech” solution into your work area, think long and hard.

EXACTLY what is the current situation? EXACTLY what standard of performance is not being met by the current process? EXACTLY what are you trying to achieve? Remember that “automating the process” is a countermeasure, and that a “manual process” is not a problem. Let me say that again: If your problem statement says “Process is manual” then you do not yet understand the problem, and there may not BE a problem. What, exactly, about this manual process does not meet your expectations?

If the problem is that the process is labor-intensive or cumbersome, then you are getting closer. But jumping to automation still is not appropriate here. Have you carefully studied the process to see why it is labor-intensive or cumbersome? Have you looked at every step, every motion, and evaluated:

  • Why is it necessary?
  • What is the purpose?

Don’t know? Then that step is a candidate for elimination as pure waste.

  • Where should it be done?
  • When should it be done?
  • Who should perform this step?

These questions give you insights that let you combine operations. Administrative processes, especially, are full of redundant work – people looking up or entering the same information at different times in different places, or copying information from one place to another. Your goal is to take the remaining operations, the ones which passed the “Who / What” test and rearrange the steps into the best logical sequence, with the right people doing them.

  • How should this task be done?

Take the remaining steps and simplify. Make the job easier and quicker. Jigs, fixtures. In administrative processes – forms, templates. Find sources of error and mistake-proof them. Work out the method.

When you are done with all of this, then take a look at what is left. NOW, if there is a problem that has not, or cannot, be solved within the existing context you might consider an automated solution as one possible countermeasure… but don’t reflex there, unless you want to turn your kaizen over to programmers.

Last Thought – what about those great metrics the automated system can collect? Question: Do they pass the “Who Cares?” test? What is your plan to use those measurements to know where you are, and are not, performing to your standard? What is your plan to use that information to target improvement activity? Keep in mind that you cannot get performance simply by measuring it, any more than calculating your fuel mileage makes your car drive further. The purpose of measurement is to compare What Should Be Happening vs. What Is Actually Happening so you can compare your results against your predictions to see if the process is working the way you expect it to.

Kaizen Events – Why and Why Not… continued

The other day I wrote about the situations where I felt a 5 day kaizen event was actually useful. I want to add one more.. sort of. Actually I want to elaborate on “education.”

Sometimes in the early stages of an implementation, there are influential people who need to be won over. Now for those who are cynical, there is not a lot of hope of that, at least not now. But for the people who are honest skeptics – meaning they will take in what information they have and assess it – those first few kaizen activities can have a high emotional impact.

Here is where you, the change agent, have an opportunity to make this “sticky.” Back in August I wrote a couple of posts that suggested that deliberately applying the elements of “stickiness” outlined in the excellent book “Made To Stick” would go a long way in building and sustaining an initial momentum. An initial kaizen event that is specifically structured to be high-impact can go a long way to do that.

In this special case you are producing a “reality show.” You are building a structure and a situation that will give your participants a specific experience. You want to create the six elements of “stickiness” that are covered in the book.

Simple. You want to send a simple and direct core message, a take-away, that everyone involved will be able to relate to. They have to understand experience just how much waste (and therefore opportunity) exists in the operation. They have to experience for themselves the power of engaging the people who do the work, of seeing for themselves, living in the conditions that exist in the work area every day. They need to experience the drag that is put on effective operations by all of the short-sighted decisions that are made every day.

Unexpected. You want to structure this kaizen event so that there is a big change in the performance of the operation, preferably in a way that was thought to be impossible. The highest-impact thing you can do is to create flow across several previously isolated process islands. This will typically crash inventory levels by one, and sometimes two, orders of magnitude, with a relative increase in velocity.

Concreteness. Same as above, actually. By participating directly in something that produces tangible, and real, results they immediately begin to learn application vs. academic theory.

Credibility. Again – direct participation in seeing the problems, clearing and solving those problems, brings credibility to the message – that a dramatic performance improvement is something we can do if we just pay attention to the right things.

Emotions. The purpose of the report-out at the end of these events is to allow the team that did the work to get.. and take.. credit for what they did. The report-out also emotionally engages the team in their work and their results.

Stories. If it is done well, the experience starts to be shared. People inevitably talk about the improvements they made, and how they solved this or that problem. People love to solve problems, and they like to talk about what they have done and what they learned in the process. When the General Manager starts telling these stories from her personal experience, people tend to pay attention. Hopefully they begin to say: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Kaizen “Events” – Why and Why Not

To many people, 5 day “kaizen events” are the way to implement lean manufacturing, and the way to improves processes. There is another, larger, group which insists that “events” are only one method, but in actual practice, kaizen events are all they do.

At the risk of being branded a heretic I propose there are two, maybe three, cases where kaizen events are the most appropriate tool. This is based on my personal experience, so your mileage may vary.

  1. Teaching. My contacts with long-time Toyota veterans are consistent – they have week-long events. They call them PKT or Practical Kaizen Training. The purpose is to:
    1. Teach leaders (and potental leaders) how to truly grasp the current situation – to see the actual issues being experienced by the workers as they do the work.
    2. Teach those leaders the cumulative effect of many small improvements, especially focused on the problems that disrupt routine work.
    3. Teach leaders that most of these problems are quick and simple fixes, if only someone did something about them.
    4. Teach leaders to teach others to observe, see problems, and solve them.
  2. Stabilization after a major change. Implementing flow often involves making major changes to the material and work flow. Those changes naturally introduce instability (or more properly, they reveal problems that have always been there, but hidden). It is crucial to have a team ready to intervene and quickly see, fix and then develop countermeasures for those problems. The week would start with the major change, then the team would focus on observing the actual (resulting) work, seeing problems (sources of instability), and devising and implementing countermeasures. The objective is to make the change, and leave it in a stable, sustainable state. All too many kaizen events do the opposite – make the big change at the end of the week after a lot of debate, and leave an unstable process for the Team Members to cope with on their own. This is “drive by kaizen” and leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth.
  3. Gathering a team to solve a specific problem. This is different than implementing a major change above. In #2, you already know what you want to do, you are just doing it and re-stabilizing the process. In this case, you know the problem, or what must be accomplished, but the local team does not have the time or wherewithal to actually solve the problem Some examples:
    • Achieving a dramatic reduction in changeover time.
    • Understanding and solving a nagging quality problem.
    • Setting up a layered maintenance checks on a machine.

All of this implies one important thing: That the kaizen event is planned based on a thorough understanding of the current situation. This can only be gained by careful observation and study. Note that none of the above items describes a scenario of bringing a team together to implement vague or unreachable goals and targets. Enough for now, before I start rambling again.

Computer Kaizen

We were at a business meeting and my coworker was waiting impatiently for his laptop computer to finish booting up. He and I were sitting next to each other, had identical machines, but I was already working. He made some comment about my machine booting faster for some reason.

But that wasn’t the case.

Here is his laptop startup sequence:

  1. Unzip bag, remove computer from bag, set on table: 7 seconds.
  2. Remove power cord from bag, unwind: 8 seconds.
  3. Crawl under table to plug in power cord: 14 seconds.
  4. Re-emerge, connect power cord, connect network cord: 11 seconds.
  5. Open lid, press start: 3 seconds.
  6. Wait: 61 seconds.

This seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Why was my setup faster?

  1. Unzip bag, remove computer from bag, set on table: 7 seconds.
  2. Open lid, press start: 3 seconds.
  3. Remove power cord from bag, unwind: 8 seconds.
  4. Crawl under table to plug in power cord: 14 seconds.
  5. Re-emerge, connect power cord, connect network cord: 11 seconds.
  6. Wait: 61 – 33 = 28 seconds.

The core question is “Why can’t I turn on the computer sooner?”

It is a laptop. It will start up just fine on the batteries while I fidget with the power cord. And the networking doesn’t come on line until well into the boot cycle, so no time is lost if the network cable isn’t connected right away.

Net result is my wait time was half of my co-workers even though we both did the same thing. We just did them in a different sequence.

In the terms of a changeover, this is identifying internal tasks that could be external and moving them there.

This is the kind of improvement opportunity your Team Leaders should leaders should learn to spot. In most cases, though, they should not implement a change. Instead they should use the opportunity to teach the Team Member who does the work how to see this opportunity, and teach the Team Member how to make the improvements.

What kind of performance would you have if everyone in your operation thought this way for a year?

Standards Protect the Team Members

One of my kaizen-specialists-in-training just came to me asking for help. The Team Members he is working with are not seeing the need to understand sources of work variation.

I hear that a lot, both in companies I have worked in and in the online forums. Everyone seems to think it is a problem in their company, their culture – that they are unique with this problem.

The idea of a unique problem is variation on the “our process / environment / product is different so ____ won’t work here.” Someday I will make a list of the standard management “reasons why not” but that isn’t the topic of this post.

I told him:

  1. This is not unique to China, or to this facility. The same resistance a always comes up, and nearly always comes up the same way once the Team Members begin to realize we are serious.
  2. There is no way to just change people’s minds all at once.

Here is something to explain to the concerned Team Members: The standard process is there to protect the team member. If there is a problem, and the standard process was followed, then the only focus for investigation can be where the process itself broke down. Countermeasures are focused on improving the strength of the process.

If, on the other hand, the process was not followed (or if there is no process), then the team member is vulnerable. Instead of the “Five Why’s” the investigation usually starts with the “Five Who’s” – who did it? Countermeasures focus on the individual who happened to be doing the work when the process failure occurred.

As you introduce the concept of standard work into an area that is not used to it, it is probably futile to try to tighten down everything at once. The good news is that you really don’t have to.

Start with the key things that must be done a certain way to preserve safety and quality. If they are explained well and mistake-proofed well, there is usually little disagreement that these things are important.

The next step is to make it clear that the above are totally mandatory. If anything gets in the way of doing those operations exactly as specified, then STOP. Do not just work around the problem, because doing so makes you (the Team Member) vulnerable to the Five Who’s inquisition.

If you focus here for a while, you will start to get more consistent execution leading to more consistent output, which is what you want anyway.

Then start looking at consistent delivery and all of a sudden the concept of variation in time comes into play. Why was this late? The welder ran out of wire, I had to go get some more, I couldn’t find the guy with the key to the locker…… Go work on that. At each step you must establish that the point of all of this is to build a system that responds to the needs of the people doing the work.

Don’t Lose Sight of “Why”

I just finished responding to a post on lean.org where the poster was struggling a bit to justify moving two sequential operations together vs. the proposed simple solution of adding conveyance from one to the other. I thought it would be worth a bit to think that through.

In a previous post “Sticky or Slick”, I admitted struggling a bit myself trying to capture the “lead story” of the Toyota Production System, the one sentence core principle that could guide decisions. I still think it is close to “Structuring the organization and the work environment to harness people’s creativity to save time.

Let’s apply that logic to this situation. Now obviously I have not seen this operation myself, so I have no idea about the work breakdown, the cycle times, the nature of the work elements, so I am going to make up opportunities that illustrate the point.

I believe the key point that gets lost here is that, in 99% of the cases, you are not moving operations closer together. You are moving operators together. You are improving material flow with the purpose of creating better people flow. The TPS is about people. Specifically, it is about organizing the work and the work place so the people can make improvements that save time and make a difference.

If two operations operators team members who are performing sequential operations are separated in space or time, then although each can work to improve her own individual work, the results don’t pass the “so what?” test. “I reduced my work cycle from 10 minutes to 7 minutes.” So what? Now you are idle for 3 minutes. You still need to be there. And it is usually beyond the technical wherewithal of a shop floor team member to automate himself completely out of a job. Since they cannot reduce cycle time to zero, there is no net difference.

But now you have a problem to solve:
This person is idle (the waste of waiting). What must I do so he has meaningfully work?

Changing the layout is now the obvious countermeasure.

To turn this “problem” into true kaizen, create or improve flow by placing those two operations very close together. Now the magic happens. As each team member works to save time (or as they work as a team), they can also continually re-balance their work so at least one of the two is still loaded close to the takt time. Eventually they reach the point where one of them can perform both operations, freeing up the other. Even if this does not quite happen, by always consolidating the wait time onto one person, that person can take on more tasks assuming they are within reach. If they are not within reach, then move them closer together and facilitate more kaizen. Changing the layout is a countermeasure, not the objective. It is a countermeasure to the problem – the waste of waiting.

The “why” of putting things close together is to give the workers the power to improve their own work and the total flow of the system. The side-benefit of doing this is that you reduce inventory and save time. People’s time, throughput time.

Structure the work and the work place so the people who do the work have the opportunity to improve the system in a meaningful way.

The cycle of kaizen:

  • Attack overproduction so other wastes are revealed.
  • Convert other forms of waste to the “waste of waiting.”
  • Adjust the work balance, and then the physical flow to eliminate the waste of waiting.

If you do it in the other order – attack the waste of waiting first, the only way a team member can remain busy is through overproduction… and overproduction is bad. Very bad.

and.. after a couple of months and several dozen posts I finally added the category “kaizen” for this one. I am not sure why it took so long.