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.
A few posts ago, I mentioned I was reading (or was about to read) a book I’d come across, The Lean Farm, authored by Ben Hartman. Well, I’m about two-thirds the way through and I’d recommend it even for (maybe, especially for) folks who are applying lean concepts and methods in other industries. (Sometimes, examples and illustrations hit home better when they are just a bit outside our intellectual comfort range.)
The book is very nicely organized. The author does a good job of breaking lean down into its most important elements. Further, Hartman provides lots of illustrations and examples of his own application of lean tools and methods on his small farm. Readers familiar with lean won’t learn much that’s new but will be interested in how an astute practitioner has been able to apply lean tools in an agricultural setting. “Newbies” will get as good an introduction to lean ideas and methods as there is.
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.
I once had a client whose business was very capital intensive. I asked if I could get measures of machine downtime. The plant manager told me that they didn’t measure downtime. Or scrap (the company had a budget variance figure that it referred to as “scrap” but no one could tell me what part of the number was bad product and what part was just adjustment for counting errors).
My point is that a management team that doesn’t bother to measure track the most basic measures of operational performance might not have the intellectual wherewithal to implement lean. Lean methods are straightforward but their successful implementation does require a fundamental desire for and vision of operational excellence. Effective continual improvement is supported by managers and associates who show an interest in the many variables that affect their work and how those variables might be controlled. Mind you, one doesn’t have to be an engineer or a wizard in operations research to successfully implement lean methods. But one does need to be intellectually curious and have a certain amount of cognitive agility and a sense of appreciative wonder about how processes work. This might be another way of saying, managers have to be pretty smart to implement lean.
A manager who doesn’t bother to track downtime in his capital-intensive shop probably isn’t smart enough to effectively implement lean and, perhaps, never will be. Nor is a manager who doesn’t track scrap. Nor is a manager who can’t tell you what the rate of on-time shipments to best customers are.
But can’t managers learn that such data is important and come to have motivation to gather and analyze the appropriate data? Sure, I suppose so. Transformation is always possible. But the odds are against it, in most cases, I think. Managers who haven’t been smart enough or curious enough to gather the most basic info about their operations during careers that might have lasted decades aren’t likely to suddenly change their ways when a new “Lean Program” comes along. Not voluntarily, at any rate.
What’s to be done, then, when managers just aren’t smart enough to effectively implement lean? Well, the plant I mentioned at the outset of this post didn’t really start implementing lean effectively until the plant manager in question left and a new one, a much smarter one, replaced him. Sometimes you just need to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.
So, at this point, you have a pretty good value stream map of your current state. I doubt if it looks as neat as the one I included in my last post. In fact, it probably looks more like this:
Example Value Stream Map (Sorry it’s a link instead of an actual diagram. It’s a PDF, as you’ll see, and this is the only way I could include it.)
You’ll see the addition of the Tool Room and Purchasing, lots of places that material sits, lots of people who need to see the Production Schedule, and a “contingency routing” which was used when the equipment in the “preferred routing” was down. (You’ll also see a Future State VSM but don’t pay any attention to that for now.) That’s how these things go…they can get messy. This VSM team met twice a week for about six weeks to get just the current state map completed. Again, that’s how these things go.
Hey, I just got another article posted on Industry Week’s web site! It rambles a bit, perhaps, but I’m particularly proud of this one. It addresses my own experience that company leaders often start out honestly committed to a lean initiative but, later, lose energy for it because they never see it as closely integrated with the company’s overall strategy. Check it out and let me know what you think!
I just came across an article, “What Can Small Farms Learn From a Car Company?”. The article reports, briefly, on a small farm that has been implementing lean concepts successfully. The farmer in question has written a book about his experiences that I just ordered from my local library (one of the very coolest examples of the manner in which modern tech does, in fact, benefit us is the ability to find and request a book one has just learned of from a wide network of libraries across the country and have it delivered to one’s local library, all free for nothing), entitled The Lean Farm.
I actually didn’t learn much from the article as to just how the farm is implementing lean concepts and methods (I hope to get more of that from the book). There was an example of moving some tools closer to where they were being used that was interesting…I guess. I always worry about that sort of illustration…it’s the sort of thing that any auto mechanic or woodworking shop operator can impart. My fear is that “lean” gets reduced to a set of “productivity tips and hacks”.
That said, the article does mention the idea of “value is whatever the customer says it is”, push vs pull thinking, and reduction of inventory and overall complexity through reduction in number of crops planted, number of acres planted, and overall inventory.
I’ll let you know more when the book comes in and I’ve read it. I like that the article and book are devoted to an arena in which we don’t usually think of applying lean methods and concepts. In fact, for some, the idea of “lean farm” brings to mind “factory farm”, a less than appealing image. (One the more cringe-worthy such monikers, I always thought was “lean hospital”. Would you take a member of your family to an institution that billed itself as a “lean hospital”?) But, as we all know, “lean” isn’t about getting “lean”. It’s about analyzing one’s business and the operations within it that produce value, then making changes in those processes so that the value delivered to customers is increased with as little loss as possible. It’s about maximizing value by maximizing the utility of the resources and inputs we use. That thinking can be applied to a hospital, a hotel, a farm…or a car company.
We ended up last time with a simple map that showed, basically, where stuff gets moved, where stuff gets something done to it, and where stuff sits waiting to be moved or have something done to it. So, we’re off to a good start. Now, we need to add some boxes and arrows that show where information moves or sits or is acted on.
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.