Lean Manufacturing Principles: No “Manufacturing Heroics”

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be going over what I consider to be some of the fundamental principles of agile thinking and practice.  Every approach, every model has to have a set of principles on which it’s founded.  To take a really big example, all the laws in the US are built on the principle that all people are created equal and are entitled to equal protection under those laws.

My agile principles won’t be quite as meaningful but you get the idea, I hope.

So, let’s get started.

A few years ago, I was visiting a plant in Kankakee, IL.  I was talking with one of the operators who was giving me chapter and verse of the problems he ran into in trying to produce a quality product efficiently.  Bad material, bad schedules, bad information, bad tooling, bad equipment and on and on.  He concluded by saying, “But, in spite of all that, I get it done.”

In his own eyes, and I’m sure in the eyes of his managers, he was a “manufacturing hero”.  He fulfilled the mission, met the goals, captured the hill in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles.  But it occurred to me at that moment that his “heroism” was a significant part of the problem.  The company, and certainly the customers of the company, would have been much better off if that operator and his associates at the plant told management, “I’m not running this bad material.  I’m not operating this faulty equipment with it’s inadequate tooling. And I’m not running this ad hoc, reactive schedule you keep handing me.”  Better yet, of course, would be a management team that held inviolable the principle that operators never have to “just get it done”, that they always have adequate, capable materials, tools, equipment, supplies, and information to do their jobs.

I’ve seen “manufacturing heroics” played out in other ways in other organizations.  The supervisor who grabs a wrench and pushes everyone aside to fix a die or a machine that’s not running right.  The managers who spent time each day in long meetings developing operating schedules. Hours of overtime expended because the ship dates had to be met.

I know, I know…there are times when any manufacturing operation has to resort to these tactics.  The question is, are these tactics the norm, as they clearly were in the Kankakee plant?  If the operations are continually dependent on “manufacturing heroics” to get product out the back door, something is clearly wrong.

Agile concepts and tools are designed to get rid of these heroic actions.  But the first step is to quit holding them up as the sort of behavior that’s expected or desired.

 

Agile Manufacturing Update…Starting Over

If you’ve been here before, you might be surprised about the “starting over” phrase.  As I’ve mentioned, GoDaddy quit offering a blog platform and tossed me over here to WordPress.  (Hosted and managed, kind of, I think, by GoDaddy.  Go figure.)  I finally got it to work with the same URL that the old blog worked with, i.e., agileviews.chagrinriverconsulting.com (took three or four calls), so I hope the four or five folks who used to come here are still able to do so.

Here’s the thing…all those years of previous posts?  They’re gone.  Yep, gone forever into the internet twilight zone. So I pretty much need to start over.  But I’m not going to…start all over.  I mean, I’m not going to have you reading the same stuff that I wrote back then.

It’s just that I’ve changed some things about my approach to implementing an agile enterprise initiative that I’d like to review with you.  And, I’d like to revisit some of the ideas I presented along the way over the past few years.

So, keep coming back.  More good stuff to come.

Value of Value Stream Maps: Take Two

A few days ago, I wrote about the use (or non-use) of value stream maps and, upon re-reading that post, I’m thinking I might have been a bit tough on value stream map users.  Don’t get me wrong…I do see many VSM’s that aren’t being put to use.  But perhaps I put a bit much blame into my message.

Here’s the thing…making good use of a value stream map takes lots of work.  And most of that work is discussion and data gathering.  I recently facilitated a series of meetings with one client’s leadership team wherein we updated old current state and future state value stream maps.  In other words, the maps were there, we just had to make any adjustments and modifications.  The meetings took place over several months.  It would have been easy for the leadership team to say, “This is just taking too long and it’s tough to see the end point.   Let’s move on to something more ‘productive’.”

As it happened, the work on updating the VSM actually raised energy within the team.  They’ve promulgated a series of initiatives and my problem now is making sure the leaders don’t spread themselves too thin….they all want to participate in all the initiatives.

My point is that it’s not so very hard to make a value stream map.  Heck, as I mentioned in the previous post, you can get your lean consultant to put one together for you and it will be pretty good.  The hard part (and it is hard) is the hours of discussion and deliberation needed to turn the map into action.

The Value of Value Stream Mapping

A number of places I’ve been to have a value stream map hanging somewhere already.  Often the map has been hanging there for a good while…several years in some cases. Now, I’m a big fan of VSM’s, so I wonder how so many get made up but so few get put to use.  I’ll often ask about the map and generally get a vague answer about “not getting around to doing anything with it”.

I think there are several reasons why this happens.  First, I think at least a few of those maps were developed by a consultant or, maybe, the local “resident expert” and handed to the client.  And, so…no buy in.  The folks who are managing the value stream have to participate in developing the map.  In my experience, the development of a VSM is “labor intensive” and takes lots of consideration and discussion.  This discussion leads to insights and ideas about improvements to the value stream that can’t be obtained any other way.

Second, whether the VSM was developed by an “expert” or by the management team, there isn’t enough discussion of the transition plan:  How are we going to get from the value stream we have to the value stream we want?  Again, this takes a good deal of discussion.

Third, there’s often a lack of follow through.  The changes that might be portrayed on a future state VSM just don’t get implemented.

The value of the value stream map, then, isn’t so much the map itself as it is the process for getting it.  The discussions that take place to develop the maps (current state and future state) and to develop the transition plan provides the energy and impetus to get things done.

 

What the hell? Where am I? And what did they do with Agile Manufacturing Update?

That’s what you’re thinking, right?

Well, here’s the quick story: GoDaddy, the host of the blog, got out of the blog hosting business.  So, I’ve had to come here to WordPress (which, ironically, I set up through and is hosted by…GoDaddy).

It’s taken me not a few calls to GoDaddy to make the switch.  Keeping the same URL was especially important.  I’ll be making changes and tweaks over the next few weeks to get things just the way I want them but at least you’ll get here by clicking the same link you always did.

There’s a big, bad downside to all this…all those great posts over the last six years or so?  They’re gone.  Yep, deleted, gone, disappeared.  Sleeping with the fishes.  I know…I’m pretty upset about it, too, but…what’re ya gonna do, right?

So…keep coming back.  More great stuff to come.