5S Erosion – Continued

In the post on 5S erosion, I posed a couple of questions.

What, exactly, is the function of a 5S audit?

What, exactly, is the problem [the audit is supposed to solve]?

How do you know [that is the problem]? What have you observed?

The responses have been interesting, wide ranging, but so far have not directly addressed the questions.

If you were preparing a simple A3, “auditing” would be one of the checks or countermeasures.

But what problem would you be addressing?

What have you observed that indicates there is a problem?

Note that I am not questioning the value of having a standard for workplace organization.

I am not even directly challenging audits, measurements, etc. However these things must have a clear purpose, or we are just blindly implementing tools and repeating mantras. And if we cannot articulate the core purpose of these things to each other, how can we ever ask others to do these things with any more authority than “because I said so” or “because it is in this book?”

5s Erosion: What Is The Problem?

I had another opportunity today to discuss why I am not a big fan of “5S audits.” I fully realize that 5S audits are out there in a big way and are almost pro-forma as a “lean practice.” I have not run into any consultants who do not have some kind of 5S audit in their collection of tools, and the topic has pretty constant traffic on the Lean Enterprise Institute discussion forums – and just about anyone who offers one up gets a lot of requests for copies.

Before I go too far, though, let me explain what I mean when I say “5S audit.”

What I typically see is a single page with a 6×6 matrix of squares on it. Down the left hand side in column 1 are labels for whatever 5 “S words” are being used in this particular version. Across the top in the top row are points assignments from 1 to 5.

The grid is then filled with criteria in each “S” to get the specified number of points, maximum 5 in each category.

Auditor takes the checklist, looks at the area being audited, perhaps asks some questions, and assesses, for each “S” how many points are given.

It is typical to then make some kind of chart – spider diagrams are popular – and assign the area a score, perhaps an average, so they are, for example, at “Level 3” on their 5S efforts.

Does that about capture it? There are variations, but I do not care so much about the form as I do the function.

And what, exactly, is the function?

That is a question that does not get asked often enough, and if it does, the asker does not press hard enough on “exactly.”

Let’s keep in mind that this audit consumes time and resources and produces nothing. Therefore it had better be an effective countermeasure to some kind of problem.

What, exactly, is the problem?

How do you know? What have you observed?

Give that a little thought.

Understanding the Solution

Another great insight from “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother.

We often think great problem solving means solving the problem, that is applying countermeasures, and we may even propose and apply several countermeasures in the hope that one of them will stop the problem. In contrast, in Toyota’s way of thinking, if the solution is not obvious, it means we have not yet understood the situation sufficiently. Time to go and see again.

So here I am, in the beginning stages of trying to figure out how to get this problem solving culture anchored – not in a single site, but in about a dozen – spanning at least 16 time zones, with six or seven languages involved. I have to keep the message very focused, direct, and simple. I have spent the last couple of months in “go and see” mode.

One of the things I am beginning to emphasize to these management teams is that their problem solving is typically far to broad in scope. They are trying to find general solutions to broad ranges of problems, like part shortages. But “Why do we have part shortages” is the wrong question. Asking that question requires studying a huge population of part shortages, and quickly entering into “Pareto paralysis.”

Jamie’s comment to the Pareto Paralysis” post was a good one. Pareto charts are a powerful analysis tool, but in my view, they are best used when breaking down which cause to work on, rather than trying to break down which problem to work on. There is a huge difference.

What I see is that teams spend too much time time deciding what problem is most important, to the detriment of actually spending time solving problems. But I digress.

Rather than spend a lot of time breaking down “part shortages,” how about taking one part shortage. Instead of asking “Why do we have part shortages” I want to know “Why was that part late today.?”

Taking a look at a single instance, rather than a whole class of problems, does a couple of things.

First, it lets the management team do something that is critically important in these beginning stages: They learn to dig in and gain solid understanding of the situation of a single problem. They have to look at how the process was supposed to work, and understand when, where and why it broke down. Frankly, until they can explain that to me, in detail, I am not the least bit interested in proposed solutions. They first have to teach me well enough that I can understand what they understand.

Going back to the quote, at that point, if the system level solution is not obvious, then it is likely that I don’t yet understand the situation. That means that they have not yet understood it enough to explain it to me, which means they need to go back and dig some more.

The other thing, though, is that the way to learn good problem solving is to:

  1. Start with single instances, rather than classes of problems.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.

Why is it important for senior leaders to get good at this kind of problem solving? After all, aren’t they paid to manage others to do this? Yup, they are. But until they have mastered the game, they are not good coaches.

What I need is senior leaders who are going to insist on the same level of understanding from their people. Leaders need to understand what questions to ask, and how to re-focus people from “We have too many part shortages” to “Why was that part late today?” If each person can teach two more how to think that way, we’ll get there pretty fast.

Grassroots Innovation: The 3rd Way

Grassroots Innovation: The 3rd Way.

Greg captures a concept in 183 words that entire books have utterly failed to explain.

When we are trying to solve a problem, there are always people involved. And people have positions, feelings, and are always emotionally tied to this-or-that outcome.

It is critically important to find “The 3rd Way” when working on a solution.

There is a great example of what Greg describes as “flight” starting in page 73 of John Shook’s book “Managing to Learn.”

Shook summarizes “The 3rd Way”:

. . . making good decisions required everyone’s complete commitment to dealing with harsh reality.

This produced yet another counter-intuitive aspect of A3 management: respect through conflict.

Organizations that confuse “nice-nice” with teamwork end up paralyzed and frozen in place the moment there is disagreement. No further intellectual growth appears, and they had better hope they are far enough ahead that their competitors won’t catch on.

I have already used more words talking about Greg’s post than he spent making it.

Audits vs. Leader Standard Work

5S audits, standard work audits, and for that matter ISO-900x audits, are a frequent source of questions in various online discussion forums. At the same time, the topic of “leader standard work” comes up frequently, as it did in a recent question / comment on “Walking the Gemba.”

I think the topic is worth exploring a bit.

Let’s start with audits.

Typically the purpose of an audit is to check compliance with a standard. The auditor has a checklist of some kind that defines various levels of compliance. He evaluates the current situation against the checklist, and produces a score, a report of discrepancies, a pass/fail evaluation of some kind.

So, for example, a typical 5S audit would assign various criteria in each of the 5 ‘S’ words, and assign a 1-5 scale against each of them. Periodically, the person responsible for 5S will come into the work area, do an audit, and post the score. Often there is a campaign to “get to level 3” or something.

Although there are fewer boilerplate checklists out there, “standard work audits” tend to be pretty similar, at least the ones I have seen.

Further up the scale is something like an ISO 900x audit, or an “Class-A MRP II” audit or a corporate “lean assessment.” These are often done by outside agencies to certify the organization. There is a lot of work up front to pass the audit, a plaque goes on the wall, and everybody is happy.

So what’s the problem? (this is turning into one of my favorite questions)

The key is in the difference between a “check” and a “countermeasure.”

A countermeasure is a change or adjustment to the system itself so that the root cause of a problem, or at least its effect, is eliminated.

Audits, on the other hand, actually change nothing about the underlying system. All they do is assess the current state against some (presumed) standard.

Yet so many organizations try to use “audits” as a means to alter the system.

What an audit is good for (if it is planned and performed well – a big assumption) is to CHECK to see if the other things you are doing are working. But, by itself, it is “management by measurement.” People will do what they must to pass an audit (if it even matters that much to them), then go back to what they were doing before.

Leader Standard Work operates at a much lower level of granularity, and looks for different things. Think of the analogy in a previous post about cost accounting:

When dieting, standard cost accounting would advise you to weigh yourself once a week to see if you’re losing weight. Lean accounting would measure your calorie intake and your exercise and then attempt to adjust them until you achieve the desired outcome.

So, to paraphrase, audits are weighing yourself once a week (or once a quarter!) to see if you are losing weight. Leader standard work, on the other hand, is a process to continuously verify that the calorie intake is as specified, and the exercise is as specified, while those things are being done.

That, in turn, implies that there is a daily plan for calorie intake, and a daily plan for exercise. Without those specifications, there is nothing to check.

Leader standard work defines what the leader will check, when it will be checked, and how it will be checked. It also defines how the leader will respond if there is a problem.

He is looking for solid evidence of control.

Are things going as planned?

Is anything disrupting the work cycles or flow of material?

Are quality checks being made as specified?

And, in my opinion, the most important: Are problems being handled correctly, or worked around?

This is important because a culture of working around problems is one in which problems are routinely hidden, often without malice and with the best of intentions. But hidden problems remain, come up again tomorrow, and become part of the routine, adding a little waste, a little friction, making the system a little worse every day.

The typical effort to “pass an audit” reinforces this – it actually hides problems, and the auditor’s job is to ferret them out. This is the exact opposite of the kind of problem transparency we need.

It is human nature to work around problems, and it is the default behavior, everywhere. It takes constant leader vigilance, coaching, response to prevent it.

What Is The Customer Really Buying?

Background: Frank’s still-under-warranty freezer stopped working. The service tech decided it would be repaired, ordered a new compressor and said “See you when the part gets here next week.” Frank and his wife, about to lose a freezer full of food, are not happy with the with this level of service, call “Customer Care” and are basically told that the repair will run its course.

The question posed at the end of follow-up #1 was:

“What, exactly, did the customer want here?”

I asked that question because occasionally it is good to think about not only the product we make or service we deliver, but to reflect a bit on exactly what value the customer receives from that product or service. Sometimes we confuse the technology we apply to get something done with what we are really trying to do.

Let’s look at Frank’s case. If, instead of Bellevue, Washington in July the freezer had broken down in Grand Rapids, Minnesota last December, this would not have been an issue at all. Take the food out of the freezer and set it on the porch where it was actually colder than in the freezer.

What the customer is buying is not a freezer, but an environment that keeps food from spoiling. Any environment that accomplishes that purpose will work. With our current technology, freezing the food by placing it in an insulated box with a vapor-compression heat pump attached is the best way to do that. But it isn’t the only way.

What upset Frank, and his wife, was not so much that it would take a week to fix the freezer, but that their food would spoil in the meantime. Any solution that solved that problem would have worked for them.

What, exactly, does the customer find valuable?

You press the button, We do the rest.

Sometimes the product or service simply helps the customer create, or recreate, an emotion. George Eastman “got that” and grew an empire from that idea by making photography simple enough for anyone to do. Prior to that, amateur photographers had to mess with mixing their own chemicals, glass plates, their own processing, and persevering to actually get a photograph. The value came from the technical accomplishment as much as the image itself. But that didn’t work for families that just wanted to remember an occasion, and share it with their friends. Kodak changed all of that forever. But their way wasn’t the only way, and a few years ago, a better way emerged. It wasn’t about the technology, it was about sharing the memories.

I have spent a lot of time in the construction equipment business. I recall a senior manager making a pretty insightful comment. “The only part of the crane that the customer cares about is the hook. Everything else just makes it work.”

Most construction equipment is actually is capital equipment for the customer’s business. The owner-operator of an excavator is selling a service: The customer has dirt where he wants a hole. The excavator is a tool that can fix that problem. The owner-operator needs to be able to deliver the service at a price his customer is willing to pay and still be able to make a profit. That fact, in turn, sets the prices for the equipment.

But it is important for the seller of that equipment to remember that, to his customer, it isn’t an excavator so much as a business. The seller that thinks “How can I help my customer provide better service to his customers?” rather than “I sell decent hardware at a fair price” has an opportunity to think of things beyond the hardware itself.

Look at your own operation. What value do you provide to your customers? Not just the product itself. What is the problem the customer can solve, or what is the source of pleasure he gains from your product or service? How would (or could) the customer solve the same problem, or gain the same benefit, without your product or service?

What is your customer really buying?   What business are you really in?

Design Innovation Example

This post on the Fastcompany.com blog shows a clever desktop manufacturing invention.

But what really got my attention was the development process that starts at 3:40 in the video. It shows the process of developing it. They may not call it “3P” but, by and large, this is what it looks like.

As they develop ideas, they try them out in simulation, learn, improve, try, learn, improve. As the design matures in stages, they are moving forward, step by step, with concepts that are solid. This process is fast, flushes out problems early, while they are cheap to fix, and fun.

Contrast this with what might be created by a traditional process with the assignment of making a “tabletop NC cutter for cardboard.”

Is this a “problem?”

This morning I got an email from a friend that recounts a (still ongoing) story of a failed freezer.

We arrived home Tuesday from a week away to find the “extra” freezer in the garage totally kaput…..much of the stuff inside already ruined but some still partially frozen. It’s only 4 years old and within warranty, so [we] go on line and schedule an appointment with GE service for the next day, and spend hours sorting what [food] might be savable, getting bags of ice to try and bridge the time until (you would assume) they will exchange this unit with a new one. Tech comes out the next day, announces that the compressor is fried, and that he’ll order the part and see you in a week to install.

Needless to say, the customer is not exactly happy here. What could be saved now cannot. When they elevate the problem to “Customer Care” on the phone, the answer is basically holding the line to the warranty terms which give the company the option of replacing or repairing the unit.

Aside from speculation that the response would be different if this had been a commercial unit for a large corporate customer, this story brings up some interesting issues.

Clearly the company here is well within their agreement with the customer. That is (apparently) spelled out in black and white in the warranty, all approved by the legal department. And repair of the unit is the logical economic choice for the company.

But equally clearly, the customer here is not happy with the response.

All of my protestations about how an exchange unit shipped from their warehouse in Kent today would allow my wife to save her food falls on deaf ears. Not even a transfer to a “supervisor” for exception resolution could be arranged. If you don’t like it, tough luck..not buy another GE product? “hey, your choice” hard to believe!

And a customer with a technical problem has likely been turned into a customer for the competition.

So here is the question.

“Is this a problem?”

And when I say “problem” I mean, is this a “problem” from the standpoint of the company’s internal process?

I have my thoughts, and I’ll share them in a day or so. But I’d like to hear what you think.

“Creativity” vs “Opportunity for Error”

One of the things I often hear when we start talking about mistake-proofing and standardizing operations is that we are taking away people’s “creativity.”

“Creativity” in this case is usually the challenge of figuring out how to make a broken process function, or figuring out how to make the product work when, as designed, it doesn’t. “Creativity” means knowing what Julie actually keeps a stash of the parts that are always short, and knowing how to interpret vague, contradictory or obsolete drawings and work instructions. Nobody can look me in the eye and honestly say that a workplace like that is fully respectful of people.

Honestly, the very last thing I want to do is take creativity out of the workplace. But on the other hand, how much creativity is totally wasted on things that should be simple and straightforward?

As long as people’s mental energy must be expended to simply get the process to do something useful, there is none left for them to figure out why is doesn’t work and fix it.

The illusion, I think, is that once things are standardized that there will be nothing left to do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is plenty of work to do.

First, “standardizing” is simply setting down what we believe is our best shot at what should work. Once reality sets in, there are nearly always things nobody thought of – opportunities to learn. Capturing those moments is impossible if there is no consistent baseline in the first place.

And, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the process, as designed, works pretty well. The question must then be asked: “Are we able to provide our customers exactly what they need, exactly when they needed it, on demand, one-by-one, perfect quality, in a perfectly safe environment?” If the answer to that question even includes a hesitation, then it there is work to be done.

Respect your people. Simplify the things that should be simple. Let them focus their creativity on something that matters, not on how to get through the way without screwing up.

Get Specific

A couple of days ago I had an interesting session with an improvement team in a fairly large company. They have been working on this for almost 10 years, and believe that while they have made some spot progress, they are clear that they have spent a lot of money but not yet established what they call a “lean culture.” Their implied question was “How do we get there?”

My question was “When you say ‘a lean culture,’ exactly what are you thinking about?”

What do people do? How do they behave?

“People find and eliminate waste every day.”

OK, so if they were doing that, what would you see if you watched?

There was a bit of a struggle to articulate an answer.

I see this all of the time. We rely on the jargon or general statements to define the objective, without really digging down the next couple of layers and getting clear with ourselves about what the jargon means to us. This is especially the case when we are talking about the people side of the system.

But the people are the system. They are the ones who are in there every single day making it all happen. It is people who do all of the thinking.

Consider these steps:

  • Define Value.
  • Map your value streams.
  • Establish flow.
  • Pull the value through the value stream.
  • Seek perfection.

This is the implementation sequence from Lean Thinking by Womack, Jones and Roos, that has been the guideline for a generation+ of practitioners.

Learning to See taught that generation (and is teaching this one) to establish a current-state map of the value stream, and then a design the future state to implement as flow is established. The follow-on workbooks focused on establishing flow and pull, and did it very well.

While not the only way to go about this, it does work for most processes to establish flow in materials and information.

But what do people do every day to drive continuous improvement, and how are those efforts organized, harnessed, and captured to put the results where they can truly benefit customers and the business?

Here are some things to think about.

What exactly is the target condition for your organization? Can you describe what it will look like? Can you describe it in terms of what people experience, and do, every day?

When your people go home to their families and share what they did at work today, what will they talk about? And I don’t just mean the engineers and managers. What will the front-line value-creating people remember from the workday?

How will they talk about problems?

If your target future state now includes changes in how people work, ask yourself more questions.

When, exactly, are they going to do these things you described? By “when” I mean what time, starting when, ending when.

What, exactly, do they do when they encounter a problem during production?

How, exactly, do you expect the organization to respond to that problem? Who, exactly, is responsible to work through the issue and get things back on track? How long do they have to do it? If the problem is outside their scope, what is supposed to happen? How, exactly, does additional support get involved?

If these new activities involve new skills, when and how, exactly, are people supposed to learn them and practice them to get better at it? Who is supposed to teach them, when, where, and how? How will you verify that the new skills are being used, and are having the effect you intend?

“If we do this, what will happen?”

And then what? And then what?

Think it through.

The “people” future state is far more important than future state of the material and information flow.