Sunday, May 6, 2018

LEAN and Quality: Corrective Action or A3?

A question I am often asked is whether it is preferable to keep much of our quality management system (QMS) separate from our continuous improvement process or "lean".

For those of you who read this blog religiously, you will remember that I often refer to customer complaints as the single best opportunity for organizational learning. The A3 process, and especially "Yokoten" (the A3 "closing") is designed specifically to give everyone short, continuous  bursts of organizational learning. In the book "The Fifth Discipline", author Peter Senge describes organizational learning as the fifth discipline. The more people can learn about the "whole" (instead of merely their own area of expertise) the better.

I love to think of customer complaints, and any problem we face as an organization as tuition. Often there is a steep cost for learning. (anyone pay college tuition lately?). Nothing is more frustrating than paying tuition over and over for the same course!!

Way too often I see the quality department as a silo in many companies. Too many well-intentioned quality managers keep quality problems isolated and hidden. Complaints and complaint resolution are reduced to a pencil pushing exercise on forms that go in a drawer or on the computer to satisfy various ISO business standards, and NO REAL systematic, steady organizational learning occurs.

If you find yourself paying tuition over and over and over for the same course (not learning from our mistakes or not getting to root cause), then it is probably time to inject some real energy into your quality system by using A3 to do CAPA (Corrective and Preventative Action) especially if you have worked to develop a strong, steady, continuous spirit of kaizen in your business. 

The 4 fundamental principles of the Toyota Production System are:
  1. Make decisions based on a long term philosophy, not on short-term financial goals;
  2. Continuously develop your people and partners;
  3. Believe (and demonstrate) that the right process will produce the right result; and
  4. Make your problems visible and the basis for your organizational learning. 
By integrating your quality management system with your A3 process, you are working at least 2 of the 4 fundamental principles. If CAPA is pencil-pushing, you are working on none.

Doing CAPA properly means getting to root cause. Root cause analysis is a team is almost impossible to do solo. An A3 team of 3-5 people is perfect for root cause analysis. Doing CAPA properly means going through plan, do, check, act (PDCA). PDCA is not meant to be done alone. Another term for doing PDCA alone is "jumping to solutions".  The boxes on the A3 form are designed to be done in order in the sequence of PDCA!  

At my own company, quality issues went on the A3 board and were required to close in 5 work days. A 3-5 person team was formed where quality was working hand in hand with operations, shipping, a salesperson, sometimes even with the customer. The closing was all about all of us getting smarter and working to become experts in our business. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

LEAN Legos: A Challenge for All You Lean Thinkers

I have the honor of teaching a class at Central CT State University called "Lean Operations Management". The class meets once a week on Friday mornings from 9:30am until 12:05pm. I've been teaching this one class for 6 years. My students are generally Juniors and Seniors and Graduate students, and they are highly motivated and wicked smart. 

Since my class falls the morning after "Thirsty Thursday" night, where some college students might partake in some party-like behavior, I realize it would be cruel and unusual for me to make them listen to me for 3 hours. So, all 15 sessions feature learning lean concepts using Legos. Yup, college students play with Legos every single week for an hour or so. 

The way it works is we pretend we are a manufacturing plant comprised of 6 employees. Each shift is 6 minutes long. Each employee adds 2, 3, or 4 parts to a 16 piece finished airplane. The object of the game is many planes can 6 people build in 6 minutes? As students learn to see and eliminate the 8 wastes in this process, they can make more and more planes with the same number of people and in the same 6 minutes. Their performance is tracked with a simple profit and loss statement. Each employee is paid $1 per minute. Each Lego has a raw material cost of $1. Every finished plane is sold for $85. 

We shoot video of every 6 minute shift, and the video is e-mailed to each student so they can watch it and suggest ways to eliminate one or more of the 8 wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory, motion and unused employee brainpower) for the next class. They then do A3 to gain agreement and implement the improvement(s) using PDCA (plan do check act).  Nothing beats direct observation to learn to see waste in a process. 

The "world record" for this exercise is 56 finished planes in 6 minutes. My current class, featured in this video, just tied the world record. They will be shooting for a new world record next class. 

You will notice that the students have implemented Kanban in the form of a card placed in front of each workstation. This is to avoid overproduction. The rule is you can't work on a new piece until the next person's card is empty. An empty card is a license to make another part. Kanban is a very good way to link processes. Instead of 6 seperate silos (or departments), the 6 processes are now linked. It is based on the premise of "use one make one". Without it, inventory would pile up in front of the slowest process. 

You will also notice they have an andon system. By raising their hand when they are not physically working, they are "shedding light" or making visible the fact that there is a problem....they are experiencing the waste of waiting. 

Before the students implemented Kanban and andon (and dozens of other A3s), they were only capable of making 8 planes in 6 minutes, and there were hundreds of unfinished plane parts (WIP) at the end of the shift. Profitability was -250% and sales per labor hour was $18. For the shift on the video, profit is near 25% and sales per labor hour is $120. With the same number of employees and the same 6 minutes!

My challenge to you is to watch this video and suggest one improvement. Let's pretend our customer just gave us an order for 60 planes but they need it in 6 would you proceed?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

5S and Floor Markings by Jesse Allred of Creative Safety Supply

5S is really about establishing standard work and visual manufacturing. In today's post. Floors are often overlooked as a good way think through your 5S effort.  Jesse Allred of Creative Safety Supply provides some good ideas on how industrial floor tape can help you standardize your workspace!  

So you’ve decided to go Lean with your manufacturing and implement the 5S system in your facility, but where do you start? An organized workplace is a safer and more efficient workplace, but organizing surroundings, especially in a large warehouse, can be a daunting task. 

One of the most effective and easy-to-use tools you can utilize when implementing 5S efforts is industrial floor tape. The limits to organizing with tape and floor markings are seemingly endless, and incredibly cost effective. Whether you’re just starting down the path of Lean manufacturing or you’re well-versed in the 5S world, here’s how to use floor tape and floor markings in each pillar of the 5S methodology. 

Sort – For the first step, focus on removing waste and unneeded items from the workspace. You should get rid of anything that is not essential to the running of the facility, and only keep what is absolutely necessary. Use floor markings to establish designated waste areas; this will give workers a space specifically for waste, and as the area gets full, the waste is more likely to be removed.

Set – The next step of the process is to allocate specific areas for everything in the workplace. This includes products, materials, equipment, forklifts, work desks, pallets, everything! Save time, effort, and the headache of painting floors by easily installing floor tape and markings. 

Lay down yellow lanes for pedestrian traffic so employees and visitors know where it’s safe to walk, install lanes specifically for forklifts, use the tape to create “homes” for tools and equipment to be safely stored; the possibilities really are endless. Not only will these markings improve efficiency with workers knowing exactly where items go, the area will be safer as dangerous tools can be properly out of the way, and workers are on the same page.  

Shine – This pillar is focused on keeping the work area clean and “shined” regularly. While this is more applicable to keeping tools and equipment clean, it is important to remember to clean the tape regularly to ensure visibility and extend the life of your floor tape. 

Standardize – Create standards within the workplace to achieve efficiency and ensure your efforts up until this point are maintained. This step may also include adding other 5S tools into your plan: schedule 5s events, create and display charts designating responsibility, and implement frequent Gemba walks to assess progress. Floor markings are valuable in the standardize step, as workers will constantly have clear visual reminders of the facility’s organizational goals and standards. 

Sustain – Once these techniques have been applied it’s time to sustain and continue the progress you’ve made. Once your floor markings are set in place, you won’t have to worry about them like floor paint. Over time, paint will fade and discolor, be worn down by foot and equipment traffic, and repainting will eventually be required as the paint chips and crack.

For more lean resources from Creative Safety Supply, check out

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Very First Podcast!

Bill III-my Marketing guy
My oldest son, Bill III is a marketing guy. His father (me) is a teacher and a preacher (and a football referee). Bill III is responsible for my blog, my Twitter, my LinkedIn, my Facebook, my boot camps. Without him, I'd be sending out faxes for marketing P4. Bill's father is a chemist by education, and process-oriented by nature. Bill III works for Hill Holiday, one of the best advertising agencies in the world. When Bill's father was determined to start his LEAN consulting business 6 years ago, Bill III spent hours hands-on and also on the phone (from Hong Kong at the time) teaching this old dog some new tricks. How to be a bit of a marketer.

Going into 2018, we had our usual state-of-P4 end of the year meeting over a couple of beers, and he advised me to start doing podcasts. People, he explained, don't always have time to read a blog, no matter how well intended it is. I promised him that I would do at least one in 2018.

Bill's father's gears might be slipping just a little bit. It turns out, Bill's father did do a 2015. The only problem was that he basically forgot to tell anyone. So now I want to fix that. 

The podcast was produced by a really cool company, Creative Safety Supply in Beaverton, OR. I was interviewed by Dan Clark, someone who sounds 1000 times better than I do, as you will see.  Indulge me if you will, and have a listen. We cover a ton of ground in 20 minutes, everything from respect for people to ownership vs. employee-ism to how managers sabotage lean progress.

Would you let me know if you like it so I can tell Bill III? Look for podcasts to come! Well, here it is: Respect for People & A3

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The A3 Current Condition: Measure Twice Cut Once!!

Lord Kelvin: Smart Dude
When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”-William Thompson, Lord Kelvin
In my career as a Lean Zealot, I have personally been involved in thousands of improvement projects. For those of you who know me, I like to turn big problems into lots of small ones, and chip away every day. Like chopping wood. In the course of helping others though the A3 process, one of the biggest challenges I see is the ability to actually put numbers to problems. Either they are not readily available, or we subconsciously love to go right to a fix, aka "jumping to solutions".

The way I teach A3 is that each box on the sheet represents one part of the scientific method of problem solving, better known as the "DMAIC". The DMAIC is the muscle memory we need to do effective problem solving so the same problems stay solved, and don't re-surface again. The order is define, measure, analyze, improve and control. The title of the A3 is always a problem statement, not a fix. Define, in A3, is the box where we make sure the scope of the improvement is not too big, as well as explaining, in words, why the problem statement is in fact, a problem worth tackling. The measure box (in A3, it is called the Current Condition) is about showing proof, with numbers (data) that the impact of the problem on our business. Number of complaints, hours of waiting caused, amount of scrap, etc. I really can't do the "Analyze" well unless I do a good job in measuring. Root cause analysis (5 why or fishbone) becomes a guessing game if the problem is not well defined with numbers! In fact, the better job I do in measuring, the easier root cause analysis and the clearer the proper countermeasure becomes.

When we do our home projects, we will usually spend the time (learned from experience) to "measure twice, cut once". The wood probably costs $3/foot. Our business process improvements run into hundreds or thousands of dollars......measure thrice cut once!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Metrics DRIVE Behavior: Case Study: My Poor Excuse for a Watch

OK, let me start by telling you that I am not 9 years old. In fact I have had the opportunity to live over 57 years (so far). I've been married to a great friend for 32 years, and have helped raise 3 children. I help run 2 businesses, teach a college class, and referee college football at the Division 1 level. The point of me telling you this is so you believe me when I tell you that I have retained most of my faculties.

So why, in God's name, do I find myself walking in circles around my house at 11:30 at night for 15 minutes or more like an extra from the "Walking Dead?

It is NOT because I need the exercise. I've been "working out" religiously for 35 years or more, and am in decent shape physically. Please sit while I fill you in on what drives this behavior, which is one way of putting it. 

My kids thought that I would like a Fitbit (actually the Garmin version) for my 57th birthday back in January. This contraption looks like a stylish watch that goes with any outfit. In reality, it is a hypnotic device that slowly takes over your life. I'd love to get my hands on the genius who came up with this thing. You see, the premise is that the thing yells at you during the day. "Move!" it will scream if I'm stationary for more than a few minutes. The thing has only known me for a few months, yet it has already decided that my daily goal for steps is 11,150, and according to this masochist, I need to go up at least 10 steps per day. Cute. 11,150 steps is ~5.5 miles. To make things worse, if I hit my goal, the piece of plastic raises my goal the next day (where will it end?). When I hit my goal, the poor excuse for a watch (P.E.W) sings "Goal" and shows a party hat and some confetti flying. 

I'm on my feet all day. I do lean on my feet, where the work is. I hardly ever sit. The problem is I work out first thing every other morning, and hit my goal by mid-day. On days I don't jump rope or run, I usually find myself short of the celebration before bed. Hence, the "power walk" around the house. When the P.E.W. sings goal, I go to bed. As I started asking around, nearly everyone I talked to who owns one of these contraptions told me they do the exact same thing!! Geez.

The next time someone tells you that a well thought-out set of dashboard metrics will drive behavior in your business and you shrug your shoulders in doubt, please let me send you my P.E.W. for a month to convince you. 

Metrics drive behavior. It's just human nature!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lucy & Ethel Wrapping Chocolates: Would Someone Please Go to GEMBA for Crying Out Loud?

I am sure you ALL remember fondly the 1952 episode of the TV show "I Love Lucy" where Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz grew tired of their wives' spending habits. Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel agreed to switch roles. Lucy & Ethel would go find a job, and Ricky and Fred would "take care of the house".  Lucy & Ethel go find a job in a chocolate factory, on an assembly line and quickly realize they need to do a little "kaizen" on the fly to keep up.

As a lean zealot (knucklehead), I find it necessary to watch this scene with an eye for improvement. Even though it's obvious the scene is for giggles, I can't help but think that there are some truths and some opportunities to be had. 

Lucy & Ethel find themselves early on in a fairly common predicament. They have been assigned to the "Wrapping Department" and their Team Leader seems to be a regular cheerleader in a torture chamber. Ethel indicates that she has already been "kicked out" of 3 previous departments. No surprise there if the coaching or training by the TL in wrapping is indicative of the entire chocolate factory! The TL gives a brief, basic 20,000 foot description (no demonstration) of the job and a poorly veiled threat. Following the threat, Miss Ratchet disappears to her office to check emails or maybe goes to a meeting somewhere. Lucy and Ethel are left without a goal. They do know that if a single chocolate gets by them, they're chocolate wrapping days are over.

Well, the conveyor belt starts. it is running at around 47 chocolates per minute, which means Lucy and Ethel need to wrap around 24 each minute. No sweat. This translates to 22,560 per day, or 5,414,400 per year. Whomever is running the conveyor decides on their own, without checking in with Lucy and Ethel, to jack up the speed of the line. This is obviously a good example of the king of the 8 wastes....overproduction. Overproduction is KING because it is the cause of many other of the wastes. In this case, motion, inventory (down the shirt, down the gullet, in the hat), defects (boxes will be short). Lucy & Ethel should be wearing tee shirts right now with the word "Bottleneck" on them.

Because Miss Ratchet wasn't at GEMBA at all, she does a flyover and ASSUMES all is well with Lucy and Ethel, and orders the belt to be sped up even more. Keep in mind that she has not watched Lucy & Ethel wrap even one chocolate! The belt is now running at an eye-popping 148 pieces per minute. This translates to 71,040 per day and 17,049,600 pieces of this chocolate over the course of a year. How much freakin candy is this company selling?

I'm not even going to touch carpal tunnel, burnout, overburden and all of that. Imagine working like that hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? What happens when Lucy or Ethel are out sick or on vacation? Is Ratchet ready to jump in seamlessly? I'd pay anything to see her work at 148 pieces per minute for just one hour, and I'd give my left kidney to swap Ethel with the genius who controls the speed of the conveyor and let's see just how many chocolates he/she is capable of.

LEAN lesson: All of this could have been avoided if someone, ANYONE, went to the GEMBA (where the work is) for crying out loud.