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.

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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.

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How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Strategy and Spread the Word – Part 1

So, let’s get down to the business of actually implementing lean manufacturing.

Step number one: do some planning (Strategy), then tell everyone about those plans (Spread the Word). That’s not hard, right?

No, it’s not hard but you need to do it right if the rest of the steps are to go well.  So, let’s start with Strategy and we’ll get to Spread the Word in a later post.

Essentially, you need to develop some overall goals, some metrics, and a calendar for the overall program.  And you need to get leadership together in a series of meetings to develop these goals, metrics, and the calendar. Continue reading “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Strategy and Spread the Word – Part 1”

Don’t Make These Three 5S Mistakes

people cleaning

I’ve noticed that I get a lot of hits whenever I post about 5S.  (“Lot of hits” being relative when ten hits a day for the blog as a whole is a lot.)  I confess that I’m a bit surprised about this; 5S is the most straightforward of the lean tools.  I sometimes tell clients, jokingly, that my 5S training takes about ten seconds:

“First, you Sort out everything you don’t need.  Then Straighten up and Shine what’s left.  Standardize where you put things and how you check if they’re still there.  Then Sustain all this next week.  There.  Now, go do it.”

 

That said, I’ve found that 5S can, in fact, be difficult to implement.  I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ve seen the bad results of others’ errors. Here are some of those mistakes.

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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.

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How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: More Overview

Last time, we laid out the five steps to implementing lean manufacturing and gave a bit of an overview as to the whole program.  Let’s work on that a bit more.  We’ll jump into the specifics of the five phases next post.

Over the years, I’ve found that clients often know about the various concepts and tools surrounding lean.  I rarely get asked, “What’s this ‘heijunka’ thing I’ve heard about?”  or “I don’t know much about 5S.  Can you explain it to me?” Rather, the more common questions are “How do I get started?” and “What do I do next?”

To tell you the truth, the best answer to those questions is, “We can’t really be sure where to start or what to do next until we dig in and talk more about your specific circumstances.”  I’ve found, though, that answer doesn’t do much to comfort prospective (or existing) clients.  They’re eager to hear the program.  Mind you, they’re often very willing to be flexible once the program gets started.  Heck, they are the ones that generate the need for flexibility once it gets started.  But, at the front end, they need to hear that the implementation has a beginning, an end, and a finite number of steps to get between the two.

Just as if you were building a house.  You wouldn’t be comforted if the contractor said, “We’ll start talking about your needs and interests and see what develops.”  You’d want to see a blueprint.  That’s what the five steps represent: a blueprint for implementing lean methods and tools.