I’ve learned recently that about any search term that includes “Six Sigma” does well. Regular readers know that I haven’t talked much about Six Sigma over the many months I’ve been involved with this blog. I’m not a Six Sigma “any-kind-of-belt” but I do know a bit about the statistical tools that Six Sigma advocates. (Design of Experiments is a bit above my pay grade but I’m betting the number of actual Design of Experiments projects run in any given year by manufacturers is relatively low.) All to say, it’s not because I don’t like Six Sigma that I don’t talk about it much. It’s more that Six Sigma and Lean and their relationship are misunderstood by most managers and I’ve focused on trying to clarify the “lean” part of it.
I don’t know Larry and he doesn’t know me, so this is unsolicited and uncompensated applause for a smart guy who seems to know a lot about lean. I say that because I always agree with what he writes. And that’s saying something…I once wrote some guy an email lambasting him for his superficial lean article and he sent one back, calling me every thing but a child of God. In Larry’s case, I feel almost as if I could just link to his posts rather than writing any of my own!
So…what has me singing Larry’s praises? Well, all his articles are good and should be read but two in particular perked me up.
A colleague and I are helping a couple of local school districts implement continuous improvement in three areas: Facilities Maintenance, Nutrition Services, and Transportation. (We and they call it a “Lean Implementation”, but it’s more focused on employee involvement and problem solving that on some of the classical lean methods that most manufacturers would be familiar with.) Yesterday, I was on my way to a meeting of the Transportation Team, when I got a call from the manager letting me know that he would have to postpone the meeting because of some staffing issues. The team had held a couple of meetings that I hadn’t been able to attend, so he updated me on those.
Over the years, I’ve helped a number of clients with process mapping exercises. Now, process mapping is one of those things you can read about and look up on the interweb and still not get much help when it comes to actually doing it with a team. (That said, a good book on the topic is “Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart” by Geary Rummler. ) I’ve learned some things that can help you.
Here’s a quick podcast, by my friend and colleague, Becky Morgan, about the silliness of focusing too heavily on the ratio of indirect to direct labor. Give it a listen.
One of my constant refrains is “Don’t implement lean as a cost reduction initiative. You’ll just screw it up.” Implementing lean as a cost reduction project is a sure fire way to failure but it’s probably the most common foundation for getting started. I think this comes from the idea that manufacturing operations are “cost centers” rather than “strategic value creation centers”.
I just got another article posted on Industry Week’s website. Here it is:
Hope you like it.
I always start any project with a few days of information gathering about the operations so that I’ll know a bit of the culture and local language when I get to the leadership planning steps. The info gathering phase is always enjoyable as I get to know the folks within the client organization and tell them what I have in mind. During the info gathering I always come across conditions and situations that, on the one hand, are easily addressed but, on the other, I fear that the client will think, “Is that all you’ve got?” when I bring it up.
I had the latter experience a few years ago. I was strongly encouraging a client to implement workplace organization and visual factory methods in the plant. The thing was, the plant was reasonably clean and organized but just in the usual “decent housekeeping” way that plants sometimes are. The managers didn’t refuse to take me up on my suggestions but didn’t seem to have much energy in implementing 5S. They seemed primarily interested in “cost savings kaizens”. (They couldn’t tell me what savings had come from past kaizens, or even how “cost savings” were to be measured, but that’s another story.)
I’ve said any number of times that one of the problems with lean is alleged “experts” who say stuff that just ain’t so. I just ran across an article that crams a lot of “just ain’t so” stuff into a few paragraphs. Here’s the article: Next Generation Lean: Why Lean Too Often Requires a Leap of Faith. (I’m going to quote some of the most egregious statements (and there are a lot of them) so you might want to just stay here.) Right off the bat, you know the article is likely to be pretty off track…lean NEVER requires a leap of faith. It’s benefits are proven many times over. But, let’s dig in, anyway, to see what other nonsense we can uncover.
I like to read the comments under articles that I read online. I was just checking comments under this very good IndustryWeek article, Next Generation Lean: Lean Processes Need to Continuously Improve. Down in the comments section, “Lone Star” had this to say:
Flawed implementations occur when companies rollout Lean as a project or program that measures activity such as, number of Kaizen events, 5S audit scores, A3’s completed, Process Maps produced etc.