Sunday, August 12, 2018

My Nana's LEAN Advice

When I was a kid, the highlights of my kid-year involved taking turns with my 4 brothers to sleep over my Grandparent's house on weekends. My Nana & Papa spoiled us like 6 week old milk. 

The ONLY requirement was we had to attend Mass on Sunday. Finding myself bored stiff, I would often engage in conversation with another kid, an elderly person or with myself. To cut through the monotony, I might do jumping jacks on the pew or aim spitballs to the back of parishioner's heads. My Grandmother would look at me with a death stare (all bark no bite) and whisper yell, in Italian, "mantenere ancora, statti zitto!"

When I would ask my Papa what that means, he would say "keep still".  One day I learned  it means "keep still and shut up."

Which brings me to this concept of "go to Gemba, show respect".  I find it helpful to be very mindful of my Nana's advice. Mantenere ancora, statti zitto. Let's take a look at both components of this wisdom.

First, keep still. It AMAZES me how many times we can look DIRECTLY at crummy processes and not see crummy. It is not easy to actually SEE problems, unless you keep still. Taiichi Ohno's famous "circle" was designed to help young engineers quiet their mind and learn to see. The "circle" was drawn on the floor and Ohno would instruct a young manager to stand in the circle and just watch. For hours and days. When we quiet the mind and understand how the process SHOULD work and compare it to what we see with our eyes, we begin to see problems. When you go to GEMBA, keep still. You don't go to GEMBA to be a hero and fix things, we go to learn to gain a much deeper understanding of what is happening. 

Then there's "statti zitto". One of the most important ways to demonstrate respect for people is to learn how to listen. Many managers just love to hear themselves talk. Humble inquiry is a way to get people to open up, give you their ideas and thoughts. Sounds simple, all you need to do is ask open-ended questions (not questions that can be answered with yes or no (those are questions you ask to confirm what you think). Respect for people is the belief that the people who actually DO the job every day are the true experts. It is tough to learn anything new if we already have all the answers when we show up.

The picture above: the bottom ring on my right hand is my wedding band. The top ring is my Nana's wedding band! I've been wearing it since she passed away in 2004. It is a great constant reminder for me to "mantenere ancora, statti zitto!" when I show up at someone else's GEMBA! 




Sunday, July 22, 2018

5S Lesson from the Japanese World Cup Team

In theory, the concept of 5S is simple:
  1. Sort-remove un-needed items from the area.
  2. Set-for those items that remain, make sure they have their own designated space.
  3. Shine-everyone is a janitor, keep the area looking pleasing to the eye...fresh paint, swept, etc.
  4. Standardize-work to make this "the way it always is" using a checklist.
  5. Sustain-engage management to take notice by auditing the area against the checklist.
Another simple way to think about Standardize is to think about the next person. Paul Akers of Fastcap explains this well when he talks about the company cafeteria, and how it is important to leave the table you just ate lunch on is "like new" for the "next guy". 

I suppose in a perfect world, this type of consideration doesn't need to be a "program" or a set of "S's", but standard operating procedure, how we are wired.

OK, so suppose you have a 2-0 lead over Belgium on the biggest stage in the world....World Cup soccer. Leading 2-0 with 25 minutes left in the game is like being up 25 points late in the 3rd quarter of the 2017 Super Bowl (sorry Falcon fans), or up 3 games to none in the American League Championship series in 2004 (sorry Yankee fans). Like the Falcons and Yankees, the Japanese World Cup soccer team collapsed on the field, and found themselves eliminated from the tournament. 

Of course, the devastated team, with their heads down, retreated to their team locker room and absolutely trashed the place. They punched holes in walls, left towels everywhere, got snotty to reporters who tied to interview them and got out of Russia as fast as possible. Wait, that's not what happened? Are you serious? You mean to tell me that the Japanese soccer team meticulously picked up the locker room, vacuumed it, left no trace they were even there besides leaving a thank you note (in Russian) for their Russian hosts? 

Japanese fans, after this heartbreaking loss,  spilled out onto the streets, looking to fight anyone who dared mock them, and turned over police cars and set dumpsters on fire. NO?!?! You mean to tell me the Japanese soccer fans stayed in the stadium after the debacle and picked up all of their trash and cups, leaving no trace they were even there?

5S is not about S's or checklists, it is about demonstrating respect! Respect for our company, respect for our equipment, respect for materials, and most important, respect for the "next guy". I am sure there was a group of human beings being paid to go into the locker room and into the stands to pick up towels, cups, trash, etc. Respect for humanity is putting aside ourselves long enough to consider these people. Imagine their faces when they walked in that locker room to clean up?

Thank you so much Japanese soccer and fans for such a demonstration of respect, humility, consideration and decency. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

When Good Enough Just Ain't Good Enough

If you think you want to work really hard to build a lean business strategy, then the goal can only be one thing. LEVERAGE OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE TO CREATE MARKET DISRUPTION.

A lean strategy is just too hard to settle for anything less than greatness. Lean is not about better. 

Thousands try lean and thousands fail. Those that succeed have the happiest, most motivated employees and customers that are happy to pay more. Many of those that don't succeed are very good companies, but here is definitely a huge payoff when you go from good to great. For example, 
  1. Turnover dwindles to nothing. The whole concept of a lean strategy is to deliver exactly what the customer wants when they want it. This is done by attacking the non value-adding activity your customer won't pay for.....the 8 wastes. By attacking and eliminating the 8 wastes, productivity soars (sales per labor hour), which means I have the ability to pay people more money. And give them over-the-top benefits. In my own business, people were not leaving when they were making more than they could anywhere else. People were not leaving because winning is fun!
  2. I can attract top talent. People are not willing to do the 8 wastes for a living. Word spreads fast when you become "one of the best companies to work in Connecticut" (5 times). One of your goals has got to be that your company becomes a very difficult country club to join. As my lean strategy developed, the number of candidates for any given job got longer and longer. 
  3. Customers care less about the price. Lean is a fancy word for time management. And I'm not talking only about my time, I'm talking about my customer's also! By engaging every employee to declare war on the 8 wastes every day, lead times shrink. My goal was to delight my customers by making every process faster. Speed kills! How fast to get a sample? A quote? A return? A question answered? Their order? Sure, your customer might go shop for price occasionally, but they'll be back. Good enough is service just like everyone else. Operational excellence is market disruptive. In the words of my friend Doug Hall, "if you're not meaningfully unique, you'd better be cheap!".
  4. We begin to compete against ourselves. After a few years of my own first lean journey, I realized I was paying little to no attention to what my dozens of competitors were up to. I really didn't care and was not concerned. The goal is perfection (which we never reach) but we can get to excellent. 
  5. Lean, if you stay with it, can make you pretty much recession-proof. During the Wall Street fiasco of 2007-09, we never had to lay anyone off and we actually paid bonuses those years. That my friends, is when I became a zealot!
One last favorite quote: "if you want results others don't get, you need to do things others won't do!"

Sunday, June 24, 2018

9th Waste? Banging Your Head Agaist the Wall

Can we agree that as leaders, we only have one value-added job? That is, of course, to build leaders. When we wake up in the morning to get ready to go to work, our objective is ONE thing: develop people!!! Managers are blessed (challenged) with the responsibility of working closely with (thereby developing) people to build robust, bullet-proof processes free of the 8 wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory, motion and un-used employee brainpower). Our job is NOT to develop our offices, computers and conference rooms. Our job is definitely NOT to constantly firefight problems day after day. 

Firefighting is not something you can put on the customer invoice. Your customer has zero interest in how much firefighting, pain and suffering or re-work went into delivering what they need. They won't pay for it. You pay. And it all comes out of your ability to pay more, which costs you the ability to recruit and develop new talent. Firefighting is a very common form of the waste of non-essential processing!

In my own business, my goal was always to be the highest paying employer in our marketplace, to be in a position to offer the best health care and to pay the highest bonuses. The goal was to be recognized as one of the best companies to work in Connecticut (achieved 5 times). This goal was realized when our processes became more robust. Our processes became more robust when our attention as managers turned away from firefighting and toward working day after day with our process experts (the people who DO the work in the factory and in the offices) to slowly, steadily eliminate those 8 wastes in every process using the process of A3. 

In his 2010 book Toyota Kata, Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results, author Mike Rother talks about how 75-80% of a manager's time needs to be spent doing "improvement work". Firefighting and supervising are a far cry from improvement work, and NOBODY gets developed!

Respect for people means not sitting by (in our office or in meetings) and allowing people to do chaotic processes for a living. Humans are not fulfilled when they find themselves frustrated (and tired) doing the 8 wastes for a living with no end in sight. My hero, Taiichi Ohno, who is credited with developing what is now known as the Toyota Production System, was known as a volatile, impatient person. His frustration was not with the people who did the work, but with managers who would allow people to do bad processes day after day. 

So try to remember that we have only one value-added job as managers: developing people so they don't feel like banging their heads against the wall!









Sunday, June 17, 2018

4 Reasons A3 is a Code of Conduct!

As you are aware, nothing makes the fur stand up on my back (if I had fur) more than when I hear people refer to A3 as "a form". Or even higher fur when people talk about doing "A3 reports". The process of A3 is a lot of things, and I promise you it is way more than a form or God-forbid, a "report". 

In fact, I think of A3 more of a code of conduct. Here is a list of 4 things that A3 IS:
  1. A3 is a tool to create a culture where people stop jumping to solutions in problem solving. The A3 form itself is designed to walk us through the scientific method of problem solving (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) because each box is one of those steps, and we can't move to the next box until we are satisfied with the previous one.. It is designed to make sure a 3 to 5 person team does the DMAIC in order! There is a reason why we like to do the DMAIC in order...….because we don't like solving the same problems over and over. A3 gives everyone practice doing the DMAIC in order, until it becomes habit!
  2. A3 levels the playing field-I don't care if you are the Shah of the company, if you find yourself on an A3 team, all titles get checked at the door. Everyone has equal status and it doesn't matter if you are the VP of Operations or the summer intern. Nobody is more or less important than anyone else. A3 is not about influencing by rank or status, but about 3-5 people learning how to gain agreement! A3 teaches managers to stop answering questions with answers (because they think they have to) and teaches how to answer questions with open-ended questions. The difference is, as managers we get to learn just how smart people are. A3 values every brain, not how big the office is.
  3. A3 is about practicing respect for people-if a process improvement impacts someone's job, they have had better be part of the thinking! Remember that it is disrespectful for me to fix your job. Nothing kills people's morale worse than being on the butt end of a lousy process. Most times, when people are doing silly, backward, wasteful processes for 40 hours per week, they were not the ones who developed and implemented said process. Ironically, a person who has been doing the same job for 5 years has been doing that job for 10,000 hours. That alone pretty much qualifies that person as a process expert and should at least be part of any changes!
  4. A3 is a way for managers to develop leaders-I like to say that A3 is about developing leaders in your company, and the process improvement is second, like icing on the cake. Imagine an entire of population of people willing and capable of pulling a team together, going through the DMAIC, thereby improving the process and then being capable of getting up in front of their peers and teaching everyone else what they did (at the A3 closing)? When you think about it, that is the behavior we expect of leaders. Think of A3 as a training ground for future leaders.
So, if you see me out sometime, please refrain from all this talk about A3 being a form or a (gag)report. There's nothing scarier than me with my fur standing up.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

5S is NOT I Repeat NOT Housekeeping!

Famous Housekeeper Hazel
For many years, I thought of 5S pretty much like everyone else does. I thought 5S was about housekeeping, sprucing up the place, making our workplaces pleasing to the eye for visitors. The way I always explain 5S to rookies is to think about how you clean out and organize your garage:

Sort means I take everything out and put it in the driveway. Then I need to decide what belongs in the garage and what doesn't. For the stuff that doesn't, I do "red tag"....put it to the curb for trash pickup, have a tag sale, whatever. It just doesn't go back into the garage.

Set means that everything that goes back into the garage will have it's own easily identified, labeled spot, not a random spot, or where it fits.

Shine means that in the process of doing set, I might power wash my epoxy floor, paint the walls, clean up oil spots, vacuum spider webs, etc.

Standardize means that I will develop a checklist for this new and improved space that will make it easy to check (on a schedule) that everything is in it's place.

Sustain means I will have the discipline to do those checks routinely, like church. Once per week, twice per month, whatever. Doesn't this seem really simple? Then why is 5S one of the most difficult lean tools to use?

Because 5S REQUIRES respect for people and working really hard to gain agreement with everyone who works in that area. Once I did a "sort" and "red tagged" a rocking chair without gaining agreement with my wife and then had to do some dumpster diving ("un-red tagging"). The process of A3 is the perfect way to gain this agreement and leverage diversity to "5S" successfully. If you don't gain agreement, or you dictate it, be prepared to re-do 5S over and over. And over. 

Think about the financial impact of not doing 5S (standard work). If, throughout your business, 100 people each spend just 5 minutes per day searching for tools, raw materials, reports, e-mails, other paperwork or other supplies they need to do their job, then you will have invested 120,000 minutes (2000 hours, or fifty 40 hour work weeks) in one year (240 work days). Put another way, you just paid 100 people $70,000 to not do the job they are being paid to do, but to engage in some of the 8 wastes (motion, waiting, etc.)

5S is not about sprucing up or housekeeping. Leave that to Hazel. 5S is about standard work and saving time and money!

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 sport....it 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.