Lean Manufacturing Provides Transformational Value: Part 2

In my last post on this topic, I wrote the following:

“These new capabilities and capacities should compel the organization to use that new capability and to fill that new capacity with.  I say “should” because it doesn’t always happen that way.”

As I’ve mentioned many times here, organizations get stuck on the idea that lean principles just cut costs and waste. They don’t consider or aren’t open to the notion that lean actually adds capacity and capability…the capacity and capability to do something that couldn’t be done before.  In effect, companies are required to answer, for themselves, the question:

‘If we weren’t doing what we’re doing today…what would we be doing?”

Continue reading “Lean Manufacturing Provides Transformational Value: Part 2”

Lean Manufacturing Provides Transformational Value: Part 1

I’ve got this friend who’s made a few million (I think) in business software development.  He’s a smart guy and we have fun discussions about business and politics (we think a lot alike on both).

sum of partsRecently , he was onto something that I actually took notes on.  He used an illustration:  Let’s say one guy knows how to make chocolate and sell it and does a great job at it.  Another guy knows how to make peanut butter and he does a great job, too.  Then there’s a third person…this guy doesn’t make anything but he has this idea as to how the chocolate and the peanut butter can be combined to make a product that nobody ever saw before and that everyone will love.  Which of the three stands to add the most value to shareholders, to the employees of the two companies, to society?  Why it’s that guy with the idea, right?  My friend referred to this as the idea that provides transformational value.

Continue reading “Lean Manufacturing Provides Transformational Value: Part 1”

Lean Manufacturing Isn’t The Tools

I’m putting together a short training program for something I’ve done a lot over the years, 5S.  One of my issues is that most of the reading I’ve done and training I’ve seen on 5S simply digs into the easiest, “toolsy” part of it.  You know…first you Sort, then you Set in Place, then you Shine, and it provides a safer more productive workplace.  What’s not to like, right?

Well, very little of what I’ve seen really digs into the core raison d’etre of 5S.  What’s it really, down deep for?

Continue reading “Lean Manufacturing Isn’t The Tools”

Book Review: Blackett’s War

Maybe some of you have seen the recent movie The Imitation Game.  The movie focuses primarily on the life of Alan Turing during and after his and his colleagues efforts to break the German Ultra code.

Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare focuses on the same efforts without devoting as much attention to Turing.

So, why am I reviewing a book about WWII here in my blog on lean concepts and methods?  Well, the book’s title probably gives you a clue but here’s an anecdote from the book:  one of the team members was out in the field with the troops.  He noticed the soldiers lined up to wash their eating utensils.  They were queued in two lines; at the head of each line was one wash bin and one rinse bin.  He further noticed that the soldiers spent much more time at the wash bins than at the rinse bins.  He went over to the operation, turned one of the rinse bins into a third wash bin and formed the soldiers into a single line, so that, when a wash bin became available, the next soldier went to it.  Soon, there was no queue.  The soldiers weren’t waiting at all.  You see the connection with lean thinking, I’m sure.

Continue reading “Book Review: Blackett’s War”

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing – Strategy and Spread the Word: Part 2

In the earlier post, we talked about the Strategy part of the first phase.  Now, let’s talk about the Spread the Word part.

Communication 2Remember, during the Strategy portion of this phase, we developed a set of goals, metrics, and a calendar for the lean manufacturing  initiative.  It’s time to communicate all that to everyone else in the organization.

Continue reading “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing – Strategy and Spread the Word: Part 2”

Code Breaking and Lean Manufacturing

I’m reading this book, Blackett’s War, about the WWII code breakers in England and their fight against the German U-boats.  It seems that in 1940, before the German Enigma machine was fully “broken into”, Great Britain was making some progress in its code breaking efforts.  German communications to its army offices were intercepted that indicated a possible German invasion of Norway.  When told of this interception, British officials ignored the news saying that the code breakers didn’t know what they were talking about because information about ship movements would certainly be transmitted to navy, not army, offices.  The thing was…the ships were carrying army troops.

This, of course, is a case of nearly criminal lack of curiosity and imagination.  I know that hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to judge leadership’s reluctance to accept and analyze this new information but how difficult would it have been to ask, “What are the possibilities here?  Why might this be happening?  What might this information be telling us?”  Rather the information was filtered out, discarded, because of rigid preconceptions.

So, what does all this have to do with lean manufacturing?  Well, it speaks to how very difficult organizational change is.  Leaders necessarily develop filters for information, which is coming at them in a variety of forms from all directions, all at once.  They can’t respond to everything they hear or see or they’d put their organizations into chaos. The problem is, of course, that some of that information is vital, conveying new opportunities or threats.  When leaders develop filters that are too “strong”, this information gets rebuffed, perhaps with grave consequences, as was the case in the illustration above.

Kodak invented the digital camera.  Xerox pretty much invented the personal computer and the GUI interface.  But new information was filtered out because of rigid preconceptions as to what was good for the company and what wasn’t.  The companies suffered as a result.

Leaders, then, are continually between the proverbial rock and hard place.  If they filter out nothing, they risk creating chaos.  If they filter out too much, they risk failing to respond to important information.

What’s the answer, then?  There’s no easy one but it starts with an activity that, in my experience, managers have a tough time engaging in: philosophical discussion and conversation.  In particular, discussion and conversation about “warm and fuzzy” topics like organizational vision, values, principles, that sort of thing.  Discussions about what matters and what doesn’t.  Discussions about possibilities and options and scenarios.  Conversations that start with “What if…?”  and “How could we…?” and “Might it be possible to….?”

Do these sorts of discussions guarantee that leaders’ filters will be strong enough to prevent chaos but not so rigid that they prevent action when necessary?  Of course not.  But lack of curiosity and introspection pretty much guarantees that leaders will resist change, even when the data indicates that change is needed, until it’s too late.


Another Lean Manufacturing Video

I’m continuing my search for good lean manufacturing videos.  I’ll tell you the truth, there aren’t a lot.  The most interesting and valuable tend to be “a look at the factory” type videos.

In that light, I think you’ll like this one.  As was the case with the Fast Cap video, work place organization is highlighted.

Steering Committee Blues

A central element of any of my lean manufacturing implementations is the establishment of a Steering Committee.  The Steering Committee usually comprises the top leadership in the organization in which I’m working.

Steering Committee Blues

We always hope for Steering Committees that get fully engaged in the lean project, eagerly discussing issues and tossing around ideas.  What we get, too often, are Steering Committees that don’t steer.

Continue reading “Steering Committee Blues”

Compensate Workers for their Value Added

I found a good article by another practioner, Bill Waddell, at his Manufacturing Leadership blog.  I’ve never met Bill but he’s a good writer and I used to check out another blog he wrote for (and maybe still does), Evolving Excellence., to see what he had written lately.  He and I went a few rounds in the comment section of some of his posts (I tend to have a more sanguine view of labor organizations and the public sector than he does) but his articles were always thoughtful and well written.  (He, like me, can be very tough on management and leadership.)

This article is a good example.  When I saw the title, The Irrelevance of Minimum Wage, I was ready to go another round or two with him.  Then I read the article and found myself in complete agreement.

He rightly calls manufacturers to task:

“The same thing is true with the braying from the old school manufacturers about their perceived inability to find skilled workers. All depends on the skills. When they see workers as merely that “set of hands” they are right. Lean companies, however, see it a bit differently…”

Bill correctly points out that too many companies see their workers, not as sources of strategic advantage, but simply as costs that need to be minimized.