I don’t get to the Interest Groups at LinkedIn as often as I should but I browsed around there yesterday and found a really crummy article. I don’t want to link to it because I don’t want to give it any traffic but it’s title was “The Dark Side of Lean”. It was one of those articles, the likes I’ve read a number of versions over the years, that seeks to impugn an approach of which the author makes it apparent that he or she knows nothing. Continue reading
OK, so enough talk about boxes and arrows and lets put something on paper. We have a couple of decisions to make before we get started. First, we need to decide just which process to map. It might be that all the products in your operation go through the same process; that makes it easy to decide which process to map doesn’t it? In most cases, though, different products go through different processes. So, you have to pick one to map. (In many cases, you’ll have groups of products that go through a similar processes. If that’s your case, think of creating a process map for a group of products.) Now, I’ve read books that recommended an approach to picking a product or product group to map that involved lots of data gathering and calculations before making a decision. I don’t think it’s that hard. All you have to do is carry on a discussion that addresses these questions:
- Which products/product groups are high volume?
- Which products/product groups are high margin?
- Which products/product groups are important for some other reason, e.g., important new product?
- Which products/product groups are giving us the most problems?
If you have a product/product group that hits two or three of these criteria, go with that one. If none of your products hit more than one criterion, pick whichever product you want to start with, then move on to the others. Then do like we said last time, start with the customer and discuss their needs and the outputs that meet those needs. Then talk about the suppliers and your standards for what they provide.
OK, now you’re ready to connect those boxes and arrows.
I know just enough about ERP (and MRP and MRP II) to be dangerous. Maybe not even that much. I do know that lean does better and more easily what ERP/MRP tries to do but generally gets wrong: creating smooth flow and a consistent, effective production schedule, even in the face of continual change.
My friend Becky Morgan knows a lot more than I do. And she says it all better than I can. Here’s the proof.
I made a “PowerPoint video” that I posted to YouTube over a year ago. I just posted another video on YouTube and here it is. Yeah, it’s a bit “homemade” (I sure wish it had picked another thumbnail, for example) but, hey, I’m still figuring all this YouTube stuff out. Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think.
I hadn’t been to Jim Womack’s blog in awhile, so I went to check it out this morning. Boy, did I find a doozy of an article: Dealing with Lean’s Crazy Relatives. According to Womack, lean’s crazy relatives are (and you won’t be terribly surprised at this) Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford.
Now, I make reference to these two guys myself whenever I’m reviewing the history of lean methods and thinking. Mind you, I don’t put either of them on a pedestal, but I think they’ve each provided something to the art and science of stable, consistent work flow. Womack is a bit less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt but we do agree that their hyper-focus on work standardization may have done more harm than good over the years. As Womack points out, the role of standardization in lean is problematic for practitioners, it’s important…it can’t be ignored…it’s often misunderstood and misapplied. Continue reading
Hey, readers! I got published in IndustryWeek! Well…not in the magazine but I did get on the website.
I check into Industry Week’s site fairly often because I find good articles on a variety of topics relevant to manufacturing. I also sign up for their occasional free webinars. (In fact, I was the star of one of their webinars several years ago. Well…actually, I think I got called in off the bench when one of the headliners had to bow out. But, still…)
IW has an upcoming webinar, The State of US Manufacturing. (You can sign up at the link.) One of of the participants is a VP at Whirlpool. I think it’s interesting that IW should choose a presenter from Whirlpool for this particular webinar. I posted a recent article on LinkedIn, entitled “The System IS Rigged”. (I’d give you a link but I think it wouldn’t work because the link I have allows me to edit the post. Go to LinkedIn, and search the Posts, not People, using the title. You’ll find it listed there.) In that article, I talk about the state of US manufacturing. In particular, I discuss the fact that US companies 1.) have lots of cash, and 2.) are borrowing lots more cash. What are they doing with it all? Buying back their own stocks. As I say in my article, I have a big problem with this. The companies themselves will tell you, “Hey, it’s good for our shareholders,” and that’s not a bad thing. Of course, developing new products, improving existing products and processes, and hiring the best talent available are also good for shareholders. What the companies don’t tell you is that buybacks are especially good for short term shareholders and, most especially, company execs with stock options.
So, what does all this have to do with IW’s choice of a VP from Whirlpool? If you go to the signup page, you’ll see that Whirlpool has invested “$1 billion in Whirlpool’s U.S. facilities over the past 5 years”. That’s a good thing, of course. What it doesn’t mention is that Whirlpool has authorized the repurchase shares of its own stock. How much stock? $1 billion. Funny that the $1B investment in operations gets mentioned but the $1B stock buyback doesn’t. Maybe it’s because buybacks are a financial gimmick to reward senior execs and big investors looking to make a quick buck at the expense of operations, employees, and customers.
William Lazonick, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Lowell has this to say:
“It really is an idiotic ideology, that you run the company for the people who matter least,” Lazonick said, referring to shareholders. “The people who can get in and out of the company quickest and for whom that is often their only goal.” (All Buy Myself…The Thinking Behind Stock Buybacks)
My guess is that that Whirlpool exec won’t say anything like: “We couldn’t really think of anything to do with that extra billion other than to line our own pockets and enrich short term investors.”
I’ve been catching up on my reading on the Industry Week web site. (Full Disclosure: I’ve written articles for both the IW website and the magazine but don’t and never have made any money from them.) I found one that speaks to an issue that I cover here quite a bit: culture change. The article “10 Steps to Create a Continuous Improvement Culture”, reviews a presentation that Steve Olsen, Executive Vice President of Camcraft, an automotive components supplier, made to the 2016 Industry Week Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo.
Managers always like to hear what other managers have to say about what’s worked and what hasn’t for them. And Olsen has some important things to say. Here’s a summary of his ten steps:
- Get Help
- Choose What Fits
- Explain Why (Over and over and over)
- Keep It Simple
- Help People See
- Find Allies
- Be Open
- Be Generous
- Be Creative
- Be Patient
I’ll let you read the article to get Olsen’s details on all ten steps but there is one I’d like to highlight: Explain Why (Over and over and over). In my experience, managers don’t spend enough time…not nearly enough time…talking with employees about the continuous improvement initiative. Sure, there’s almost always some sort of “launch” where managers express their total and undying commitment to the continuous improvement initiative again. Too often that’s the last time anyone hears much of anything from management until it becomes clear that the initiative isn’t gaining traction. At which time management starts asking “What the hell happened?”
I occasionally teach an Organization Behavior course at nearby Kent State University. In that course, I focus on management of culture change. I tell my students that change always creates resistance, that there’s no such thing as “no resistance” to change of any sort. Managers do need to manage resistance as it becomes evident. In the course, I covered a model for managing that resistance. An important element of that model was stated this way: Communication3 (that’s supposed to read “Communication Cubed” but I can’t do the 3 as a superscript). By that, I meant that, before and during any change effort, managers needed to communicate a lot. More than they’d think they’d need to. Then, more than that. I tell my students that, during a change effort, there’s no such thing as too much communication.
The idea of Communication3 carries with it the fact of lots of repetition. Managers too often feel that, once they announce something (or, worse yet, once they post it on the bulletin board), everyone ought to hear and understand the message. It just doesn’t work that way. Managers need to tell each other and all associates why and how the organization is going about the change effort…over and over and over, using essentially the same words.
Let’s look at an example, one that I might have used before. A plant manager I once worked with was upset that workers weren’t putting the change over tools back on the shadowboard he’d installed. He had put the board up, announced to the crew what he wanted to happen, and returned to his office. As far as I know, he didn’t mention the shadowboard or its purpose again until he complained to me about the fact that nobody paid any attention to it.
I told him that he needed to come out onto the shop floor twice daily (at least) to look at the shadow board and talk to the operators about its use. If the tools were there, he could say to his supervisors and operators, “Good work. That’s just what I wanted to see. Anybody got any ideas as to how we can improve it?” If the tools weren’t there, he should gather his supervisors together and say, “My damn tools aren’t where they are supposed to be. I expect them to be where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. I expect you to reinforce this message with the operators.” Twice a day. Every day.
After awhile, he can reduce his communications to once a day, then to a few times a week, then to once a week and so on.
The central message is this: if you aren’t talking about your continuous improvement effort to others in your organization several times a day at the start and several times a week even after it gains momentum, you aren’t doing your job as manager.
Awhile back (too much of awhile back), I posted about an article I’d read on the Industry Week website about six sigma and team problem solving. (Here it is, if you want to take another look at it.) In that first post, I ranted a bit about the worst condition highlighted by the IW article: incompetent managers. I promised I’d make some comments about the inept approach to problem solving described in the article in a followup post. Well, three months later, here’s that followup post.
Let me start by saying that I don’t want any of my remarks here to be seen as anything like a defense for the utterly, abjectly vacuous leadership described in the IW article. When nincompoops take up space in the C-suite, no tactic, no tool, no approach, however well conceived and implemented will save the organization. It’s doomed to a long, slow, tortuous demise. (Trust me…I’ve worked for such organizations.)
But the truth is…our antagonist didn’t seem to have learned much at his six sigma training. Let’s look at the evidence for our indictment. The article says that our six sigma guy and the team used the DMAIC approach to team problem solving but we aren’t provided with much that indicates that he or the team actually followed the DMAIC path. In fact, the path they actually did follow looks more like:
- Make a chart based on only one of the many possible relevant metrics
- Jump to conclusions
- Present a limited solution that fits the conclusion jumped to.
Now, the article does say that the team spent several weeks in meetings and analysis but doesn’t give us much as to how that time was spent. It’s not hard to imagine the team spending its time and energy discussing how it was going to go about getting their penny-pinching bosses to spring for the new computer system.
The question posed by the IW article is: Would Dr. Deming have been a proponent of Six Sigma. But the example described in the article doesn’t really help address the question because it doesn’t really portray six sigma methods, and certainly not DMAIC.
Within the next few weeks, the blog at Employer Resource Council in Cleveland will start posting my series on DMAIC, so I won’t go into any detail here as to how that approach should actually be undertaken. (I’ll post a link when it shows up.)
Team problem solving can be hard work. It can be fun, too and is nearly always effective given adherence to the process and senior leadership that isn’t bereft of even a scintilla of intelligence. There’s nothing like implementing a solution developed by a team and seeing that solution work to motivate associates at all levels in the organization. Everyone in the organization needs to keep in mind, though, that it’s not “six sigma”, or “DMAIC”, or any other set of tools that contains the magic. It’s smart, committed leadership getting smart, motivated employees involved in making continual improvements to all aspects of the business. I’m pretty sure Dr. Deming would have been on board with that.
About a year ago, a small local company got in touch with me with an interest in implementing lean tools. Management told me what they wanted, I told them how I went about things and what it would cost. We set up a schedule and started the project. There were a few warning signals early on I suppose. I’d arrive for our meeting and the managers would appear as if I wasn’t expected. The conference table would be covered with dirty parts and tools. On the other hand, they were carrying out their agreed upon tasks reasonably well, better than other clients I’ve had. But that problem of not being ready for meetings got worse, so that meetings would be cancelled…after I arrived. In other cases, some “emergency” or other would pop up and the meeting would be stopped and postponed. After one such cancellation, management told me, “We’re really busy. We’ll let you know when we want to get started again.” I waited a few weeks, then sent a few emails that went unanswered and made a few phone calls that weren’t returned. Finally, I got in touch with the owner, who had hired me in the first place. He said he was surprised that no one had gotten back in touch with me, but…”we’re really busy, so we’ll let you know.”
I’ve often wondered how it happens that management takes the trouble to find a consultant, get started on a lean initiative, even make a bit of progress before letting the project fizzle out all together. (I confess I’ve had this happen a couple of other times. Yeah, I know…it could be they just don’t like me, but I get good feedback from clients that actually do follow through.) I have to think that a fair amount of discussion among senior leaders and managers took place before the initiative was started. It’s tough to imagine that someone in the company woke up one morning and thought, “I think I’ll hire a consultant this week and get started on the lean thing to see what it’s all about.” So, what is it that happens?
I probably should follow up to see just what it is that happened (or didn’t happen) but I don’t. But I have a few hypotheses. First, I wonder if lean methods are still being oversold. I get the impression, at times, that clients, in spite of my admonitions to the contrary, expect that I and they will implement some arcane methods that only smart guys like me know about, after which throughput, quality, customer service, and general employee happiness will leap forward in a month, maybe two. They nod their heads affirmatively when I tell them that a successful lean implementation will take a couple of years, even in a small organization, but get impatient when sales haven’t doubled and margins jumped up by the third month of the project.
Second, I’m fairly certain that, again, in spite of my admonitions, clients underestimate how…tedious…a lean implementation can be. Laying the foundation for a successful lean culture is like laying the foundation for a building…first, you gotta dig a hole, maybe by hand. Then you gotta lay heavy cement blocks…lots and lots of heavy cement blocks. By hand. The final edifice is going to look great but that’s a long time away and, right now, the work is boring and hard. A lean implementation is like that. The company has to carry out lots of activities that aren’t much fun and the immediate payoff for which is just about nil. Like getting all the junk off the shop floor. And, maybe, painting the place. And labeling all the cabinets and shelves. And telling that operator for the 33rd time to put his damn tools back on the shadowboard when he’s through with them. All to say, lean implementations aren’t nearly as exciting as perhaps the client hoped they would be.
Third, nobody, most especially managers, in my experience, like to be told that they need to change what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been doing it. I tell managers that they’ll need to take a “gemba walk” through the operations several times a day if they want operators to actually change their behaviors…and they don’t do it. Then wonder why operators aren’t adhering to the new standards. A team creates a value stream map and figures that a supermarket between two departments will improve flow and scheduling substantially. All that’s needed is four squares painted on the floor and some communications between the department supervisor and the operators to get started. Two months later, there are no squares on the floor and the same flow and schedule problems exist between the departments. A leadership team agrees to buy a bulletin board and post charts of several important plant performance indicators. Six weeks later…no bulletin board and no charts. I know that managers and operators aren’t lazy. I just think that they aren’t good at changing their routines, even when they agree that change is needed.
I’m not sure how to address all of this effectively. I feel that I speak to these issues before starting any engagement but I’m not eager to hammer so stridently on these issues that clients become dispirited before they start. And, perhaps, it doesn’t matter what I say at the start of a project if clients are only hearing what they want to hear.
As I’ve said so many times…the tools are straightforward, it’s the culture change that’s the challenge.