Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sacred Cows and Silo Waste

A3 is about a slow, steady, continuous march toward flow. Instead of "doing" continuous improvement when you have time, or every once in a while (an event), A3 is about developing a new process in your business so smaller improvements occur daily by pretty much the entire company.

When you first adopt this new process, everyone is excited. A3 becomes a really easy way to implement hundreds of employee suggestions. The people who actually DO the work feel like they have a say in how their work is done. Hours and hours of non-value added work (the 8 wastes) is eliminated and morale improves. 

The idea is that we start A3 using employee suggestions, and then graduate to problems like customer complaints,  recurring defects, late orders, and even some long standing sacred cows that some managers dig their heels in to defend. Usually it involves a silo that should be "serving" operations. Think IT, Sales, Quality, EH&S, HR, Finance, Purchasing, Maintenance, Senior Leadership, sometimes even the "lean department". As people become better at seeing waste, they become more and more frustrated with silos making waste and the managers in charge of these silos. 

Inevitably, someone who has been doing their part by willingly leading improvements in operations will become sick and tired of living with silo waste and will become determined to lessen the impact. This is usually where all the enthusiasm and high-fives from A3 turn into long faces and feet dragging. Even though nobody in their right mind would argue that said silo waste needs to be improved, this is where managers tend to defend a bad process that causes waste (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing (sign-offs), transport, inventory and/or motion). The problem with A3 is that it makes waste (including) silo waste way too visible. A3 is good enough to go after waste on the factory floor, but not in the silos?

This is where senior leadership really needs to actively get involved and help the company over this hurdle. Once the silo waste starts to get eliminated, THEN everyone starts to see that management means what they say and really are committed to lean thinking!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

LEAN: People First, Improvements Second!

I'm not sure there is a more misunderstood lean concept than A3. I have heard it referred to as a form. I have seen people judge A3 improvements strictly by "return on investment". I have seen people's improvement ideas squashed because some manager decided the improvement wasn't worthy. This is all short-sided thinking!

A famous Toyota Production System mantra is "build leaders then build cars". Most companies FAIL when attempting a lean journey because the focus is on the improvements and not on the people making them!. The "lean journey" doesn't even make it out of the driveway.

An A3 program starts by asking everyone in the company 1 question. "if you owned the business, what change would you make to your job right now?". I have asked this question thousands of times, and amazingly, people never answer it selfishly. The response is always some obstacle that keeps them from doing their job productively.

The A3 form itself teaches people how to become really good problem solvers. The boxes on the form are laid out to mirror the scientific method of problem solving: define, then measure, analyze, then improve, then control. Imagine competing against an entire population of people getting better and better as problem solvers? Yikes!

People who lead A3 are practicing the skills we would expect from good leaders. First they need to recruit and lead a team of 3-5 people. They learn to take these people through the DMAIC. They learn how to do root cause analysis, leverage diversity of the group and gain agreement. Then, after the improvements are made, they are asked to get up in front of the whole company and teach everyone what they've learned (at the A3 closing). People learn how to be good team leaders and members, and they learn they can overcome their fear of public speaking. Mangers have an opportunity to encourage and thank these growing leaders. 

Toyota is right. Lean is about building leaders. The improvements are icing on the cake!
























Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Leadershp Lessons from Alex Cora

First I want to give you my credentials. I like the New England Patriots, a lot. I LOVE the Boston Red Sox. A lot. I pretty much listen to every game starting in April while I'm in my office, in my shed, in the garden, driving, wherever. There. Those are my credentials.

Obviously, this season has been one of the most fun I can ever remember. 108 regular season wins, a trip through the hated Yankees and Houston and on to the World Series.

Come play off time, I actually watch the Red Sox. Needless to say, there have been a few anxious, head scratching  moments so far. Let's start with our closer, Craig Kimbrell. During the ALDS and ALCS, Kimbrell decided he would take a few years off my life my turning a routine close situation into can't find the plate, runners on base, go-ahead runs in scoring position, etc. He was responsible for 20 or so minutes of hell. One game ended with Benintendi making a catch on his stomach to bail Kimbrell out. In Game 4 of the Houston series, a silent Minute Maid Park became deafeningly loud when the bases were suddenly full of Astro players. Houdini escaped again.

David Price pitched as well as we ever saw in Game 5 the following night, and the Red Sox went into the bottom of the 9th with a slim lead. Who does Alex Cora have coming out of the bullpen to face the meat of the Astro's order? Kimbrell again. I watched with horror as the bullpen door opened, thinking I was in for 20 minutes of hell again. Wrong. 5 minutes later, the game was over On to the World Series.

The word I have heard uttered from Alex Cora numerous times is...…..TRUST. As in, "Craig is our closer, we trust he will get the job done". Chris Sale (our ace) found himself in the hospital, unable to pitch game 5. The night before, David Price warmed up in the bullpen for what seemed like 2 hours. Guess who Cora gave the ball to, in HOUSTON, to start game 5? The same guy who had not won a playoff game ever! Why? "David is an excellent pitcher. I trust him."

Christian Vazquez, one of our catchers, has really struggled at the plate. Who played a significant role in the series, both behind and at the plate? Christian. Cora just flat out trusts him. Jackie Bradley Jr. batted .170 for 2 or 3 months. A major league outfielder with that low a batting average is usually benched for option B. Not Cora. The press, the fans, radio call-ins killed Cora for most of these decisions. The common denominator for these and other moves is Alex Cora's unshakable faith in his team. 

It is absolutely amazing how people will perform and how much they will give of themselves if you don't give up on them, continue to improve with them and just trust them. As leaders, don't we have a responsibility to trust and develop them? After all, who hired them?







Sunday, October 21, 2018

Doing Lean When You're Fat Dumb & Happy


Many years ago, when I first started my lean journey (trip to hell), my sensei told me that in order to "do" lean well, you need to find and communicate a "lever" to everyone in my company. A lever can be defined as a compelling reason to change in order to get everybody to "buy in". Without a good lever, it is too hard to convince everyone to change well established, comfortable behaviors. 



Well that didn't take much imagination, considering for the first time in my life, I was faced with poor cash flow and the prospect of laying people off. Three hurricanes wiped out our 3rd quarter business in 2003 (we were construction-based) The "lever" was if we don't change the way we run our business, we are screwed. Just like my sensei said, almost everyone jumped on board and pitched in. It was still hard, but we were able to develop a culture of kaizen.



Then we started winning. Customers got their orders very fast, inventory was cut by 3/4, we had cash, people were rewarded with nice bonuses. We were able to grow from 18M to 32M in sales with the same 70 people. Our company was named one of the best companies to work in Connecticut 3 or 4 times in a row. 



Then lean got harder. People start to think that we were done. We were lean!!! What's all the commotion about? Relax! Life is good. We might have started to get fat, dumb and happy. 

Then Wall Street 2008 happened. New lever! No more fat, dumb & happy. People worked hard to cut process times by eliminating the 8 wastes using A3 (over 800 of them). The result? No layoffs, bonuses paid.

So, how do we do lean without a good lever? Think of lean as an insurance policy for your business. The premiums are the time spent developing people's ability to make improvements and solve problems. Managers need to work relentlessly to cut through complacency and "busy"-ness to make continuous improvement a way of life. Make sure you communicate that our prosperity and good fortune is not guaranteed. 

Lean is easy when you have a lever, a lot more challenging when you're fat, dumb and happy!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Just Go Lean Something Today

Here I sit on a Sunday morning, having officiated some college football this weekend. As always, there are a few plays that I wish I could have done differently. In 32 years, I have never NOT felt this way. Officiating is like golf and lean, I guess...the never-ending pursuit of perfection and a test of stick-to-itiveness. 

My biggest regret when I started "doing" lean in my own company in 2002 is that I wasted way too much time getting myself and everyone else up to speed on lean concepts. You see, we had a mandatory 1-hour weekly company meeting (on Wednesday mornings at 9 am) for over 1 year. I bought and handed out 70 copies of "Lean Thinking", "The Toyota Way", "It's Your Ship", "Toyota Kata", "Learning to See", and asked everyone to read 1 chapter per week. On Wednesday morning, I would administer a quiz. I also spent 3 months of my own life, at the same time, getting myself "certified".

Eventually, it becomes time to actually DO. As my lean friends out there know, actually DOING is 1000x harder than studying and learning about it. The word KAIZEN rolls off the tongue in less than 2 seconds, and it all sounds beautiful in theory. Creating a culture of kaizen, however, feels like about 20 minutes...….UNDER WATER! 

Sort of like officiating football or hitting a golf ball. I can study, watch Power Points, whatever, but sooner or later, you need to hit the field with people yelling at you, or you find yourself on the 1st tee with everyone watching you.

LEAN is the ultimate learn by doing business strategy. Why not just go ahead and lean something today?

Friday, September 7, 2018

The LEAN Coordinator Position at Ulbrich Steel: Why It is an Extraordinary Opportunity


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists a very simple definition of innovation: the introduction of something new, a new idea, method, or device 

Respected author and consultant Ken Cook penned what I consider a very well written & insightful article in The Hartford Business Journal titled "How One CT Company Puts Innovation Into Action".  In the article, CEO Chris Ulbrich explains "action is about transforming ideas into committed action, and having an adherence to and a focus throughout the organization to those ideas and plans. To do it year after year is the art." 

Ken goes onto explain Ulbrich's commitment to a LEAN strategy and how Ulbrich Steel completes over 600 events annually. Over 3/4 of these events started with an idea from an employee looking to improve their own work. Their lean journey is a ride that is open to the most seasoned veteran as well as the recently hired. Everyone is invited and encouraged to innovate every day, and they are provided the resources to turn their ideas into action. 

Ken explains that innovative companies become adept in three intertwined areas: climate, thinking and action.  Of particular interest to me are the qualities listed for climate (how people and ideas are treated):

• High levels of trust and openness

• Collaborative approach with less focus on hierarchy.

• Leadership consistently and visibly models open-minded behaviors.

• New ideas are heard with an ear toward possibilities.

• Risk-taking is prudent, flexible and creative.



This culture of continuous improvement (kaizen) is indeed innovative and really an unfair competitive advantage. It is the end result of an incredibly uncommon level of TRUST. Quite simply, it is trusting that a furnace operator with 30 years experience is the best qualified human on the planet to make improvements to his work. My favorite definition of "respect for people"  is that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job.  Temporary self-directed work teams using A3 thinking are comprised of the person with the idea as the leader and anyone that person may need in the entire company to see that idea all the way to action using the scientific method of problem solving, define-measure-analyze-improve-control. No approval process, no silos. The more often people do this, the better they get at it. Ulbrich people have done this thousands of times, learning lean concepts as they go! Compare THAT to a suggestion box sitting on a wall empty for months or years on end. Imagine working in a company where process changes happen so fast that the ink on the "standard work document" isn't even dry before the next improvement happens?

I learned in my own company that innovation cannot be thought of as the realm of new product development or a few people alone. It is incredibly innovative to learn how to tap into the single biggest (and often unused) resource.....the brainpower of every single human. Ulbrich Steel, a company that began over 90 years ago, continues to emerge as a global force in an industry with it's share of uncertainty.  They are thriving and growing and as innovative as any company I know. 

Imagine yourself as a Lean Leader in that environment?!?!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Do NOT Impose Wishful Thinking on Your Most Important Customer


The 2 main pillars of the TPS (Toyota Production System) "house" are "respect for people" and "continuous improvement". These 2 pillars hold the house up! Sometimes you will see the pillars labeled "jidoka" and "just-in-time", which is the exact same thing, but I will cover that in a future blog.



"Respect for people" seems like such a simple idea. It almost goes without saying, right?  I don't think many of us humans wake up, have our coffee and sit around thinking of ways we can disrespect other humans (unless they cut us off in traffic). However, it is so easy to sabotage this inadvertently and without even thinking about it.



One aspect of RFP I see inadvertently violated in my travels (and I did it in my own company) is "DO NOT IMPOSE WISHFUL THINKING ON YOUR CUSTOMER". 



At first glance we immediately think of our customer as the people who pay the invoices. As mangers, however, we really have ONE primary customer. The people who we have brought into our organization that we have a responsibility to develop (remember the TPS adage, "build people, then cars").



We violate DO NOT IMPOSE WISHFUL THINKING..." when we allow people to do processes that are not 100% capable and predictable and chock full of the 8 wastes. The people who do these unstable processes for 2000+ hours each year often had little or nothing to do with the creation of these processes, yet these same people are often the scapegoat when the process doesn't deliver. Imposing wishful thinking might take the form of "if he would just follow the work standard, it would work fine" or "writing someone up" because the process is not mistake-proof enough. 



My hero, Taiichi Ohno, had a reputation for being very demanding (rude) when he observed people working bad processes. Interestingly enough, he would blow a gasket not at the person performing the work, but at the managers responsible for allowing people to work bad processes. "Your eyes are open but you do not see!!!" Wishful thinking is walking by bad processes day in and day out (or worse, staying in your office) and not doing your ONLY job, which is continuously develop your people by relentlessly helping them improve their processes. 



Everything is hunky dory is imposing wishful thinking on my customer. It may be hunky dory from your office, but not when you invest a few hours going to see it for yourself. When you go see it for yourself, go with the intention of learning from the true process expert, the person who does the work. Go with humility and ask only a couple of open ended questions (not yes/no). Make sure people have time to work ON as well as IN their process, and teach them how to do plan-do-check-act. Make sure they have access to the resources they need to make improvements (engineering/quality/maintenance/IT).  Remember it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job.



If you are not doing these things, then it is highly likely you are imposing wishful thinking on your most important customer!