Sunday, August 9, 2015

LEAN in The Summertime

My beautiful dog Tessie hiding from the sun
"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer...."-Nat King Cole (http://youtu.be/IOV96BCAvZc)

Like all things LEAN, the summer offers some unique challenges to your lean strategy. It is naive to think that momentum is the same throughout the year. The objective for your lean strategy is to make some improvement(s) somewhere in the business every single day, and at certain times of the year, lean momentum is stronger. In my experience, than other times. Right after the first of the year, for example, we get caught up in this "resolution thing", and are usually mentally refreshed from time spent during the holidays with families and friends. In Mid-Spring and mid-Fall I witness up-ticks in energy and lots of improvement activity because the climate is very comfortable here in New England. The week or so before Christmas are like pushing a rope from a LEAN champion standpoint. Then there are the "dog days of summer", which bring different challenges and opportunities. 

The phrase "dog days of summer" actually has its roots in astronomy. During the summer months in the northern hemisphere, the constellation "Sirius" the big dog, is very readily apparent in the sky. Add in the fact that this time of year, with its perfect combination of heat and humidity, is hardest on our pooches (Exhibit A is my brilliant companion Tessie, chill-axing under the table in the gazebo).

As many of you know, I spend pretty much all of my time in plants and factories, on the floor. Nope, no air conditioned conference room for this consultant. To say many manufacturing facilities are on the warmer side during the dog days is an accurate statement. To say some are pretty freakin' hot is also an acceptable answer.  My own plant back in the day was akin to a ride in the microwave in July and August. Fans, open doors, swamp coolers, and frequent ice cream, watermelon and Gatorade helped, but it was still a hard, hot day of work.

The other challenge is the fact that absentee-ism just seems to peak in the summer. According to AAA, the majority of us just like to take vacation during this time of year. Back in the day, companies would shut down a week or two just to accommodate all of this vacation time. The "dog days of Wall Street" refers to an annual drop in productivity that has been bred into us from the time we finished kindergarten....3 months of mindlessness followed by nose-to-the-grindstone when first grade started in September. 

OK, those are 2 challenges. Now the opportunities. Standard work for leaders includes show up (go to Gemba), show respect, ask questions. It is also our job to bring optimism and energy every day. If there isn't much energy because it is hot, we need to bring more. Work just a little bit harder to find opportunities for improvement by spending quality time on the floor asking questions. Encourage people to make continuous improvement continuous. If the summer months means a slight decrease in demand, fill this time by shortening some process times (by driving out the 8 wastes) so you are ready when the phone starts ringing hard again.

As more and more people are off to the beach on vacation, these months are a good indicator of how standardized your processes have become. The real litmus test is in the ability for people to seamlessly fill in for the beach people, delivering exactly what your customer expects when they expect it. Strive to create a population of general practitioners who make house calls, not specialists who can only do one job. 

My point is that your lean journey doesn't run at the same speed all year. I preach to my lean champions to learn to "take what people give you". Some weeks you will close 5 or 6 A3s, and some weeks one or (gulp) none (especially during dog days). Stay focused, don't get discouraged and keep at it.  If LEAN was easy, every one would be doing it!  Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. 

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