Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Humble Inquiry - The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

You can promote all the lean tools you want, but 5S and kaizen events will only get you so far. It's hard to change a culture without changing the way you deal with people. Just like sometimes the soft dollar savings of a change have a much bigger impact than the hard dollar savings. The intangible side of lean is the hardest  to describe, but the most important.

Edgar H. Schein's book, "Humble Inquiry," doesn't mention "lean" anywhere, But after reading it, I feel like I've had a glimpse of that elusive secret sauce.

Humble Inquiry is a book about changing culture. Unlike Toyota Kata, which also talks about asking the right questions, Humble Inquiry doesn't describe a specific method. Schein's focus is on the soft skills of management and how you can engage people by building relationships. 

"Checklists and other formal processes of coordination are not enough because they cannot deal with unanticipated situations."

As hard as it is for me as a trained engineer and lean proselytizer to eschew a standard method, I recognize the value of relationship building. As companies get larger, they need standardized methods to ensure quality. But so many times, the amount of red tape created by setting up standard systems becomes a hindrance to making improvements.

Schein tells us that as our work becomes more complex, we need to refocus on our relationships:

"The world is becoming more technologically complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse, which makes the building of relationships more and more necessary to get things accomplished and, at the same time, more difficult. Relationships are the key to good communication; good communication is the key to successful task accomplishment; and Humble Inquiry, based on Here-and-now Humility, is the key to good relationships."

So how do we get there?

"Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person."

What I like about this book is that Schein presents many actual situations where a simple question can be asked. While there can never be a clear road map with rules for exactly what to say and when, these case studies are like little quizzes.  He gives three options to choose from with varying results of success.

In Western society, most job descriptions state that teamwork and collaboration is essential, yet rewards and promotions are consistently based on individual performance. Humble Inquiry attempts to bridge that gap by helping us to show respect by asking the right questions.

Click here to buy Humble Inquiry from Amazon right now!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shining is to Make Problems Obvious!

This is a guest post by Julien D├ępelteau from Flexpipe, a modular system to build material handling solutions.

With clutter gone and the storage area organized, the next step is to properly and thoroughly clean and paint equipment and work areas. This step is critical as a way of sustaining the improvements begun in the Sort and Set phases.

Initial painting and cleaning requires a blitz task outside regular working hours, but after that a daily routine should be established. The entire team should participate in cleaning - but make sure that every team has adequate cleaning supplies and equipment; this is not a task for a special janitorial crew.

Lean 5S shine

Now that my present work is in an assembly plant, it is much easier to keep the work areas clean compared to my previous job, a welding plant where cutting, welding and painting resulted in dust, grease and sometimes paint powder coating on equipment. In 2010, they were getting very involved in lean manufacturing/5S culture.

Each employee had 10 minutes at every shift (used with a signal) to clean their work area, including sweeping and washing equipment used. Lights were bright and often cleaned from dust; floors were marked with tape and polished and the air system was in proper condition (very important in this industry!). Back then and still to this day, people (suppliers, employees, and clients) talk about how clean the factory is.

When I started working for my previous employer in 2006, we would do everything in our power to avoid a client's visit. Even if our finished products were good quality, a quick visit could wind up going bad.

Four years later, we would do the exact opposite!

A tour would help convince clients that we built good quality products and on time. Clean welding machines and shiny painting equipment gave a good impression. (It was not just an impression.) This was also a selling point when we would attract new welders... and good welders were hard to find! They would tour the plant and leave the interview thinking it was a pleasant, safe and well-run environment. (Again, it was not just perception!)

  • Shining will provide a more comfortable and pleasant environment.
  • Shining will keep a workplace safe and easy to work in.
  • Shining will encourage good quality production.
  • Shining will increase ownership of the organization's goals and vision.
  • Shining will prevent machinery and equipment deterioration.
  • Shining will be used as inspection (leaks, vibrations, breakages, and misalignments).
  • Shining is to make problems obvious!

Flexpipe can build shadow boards and other 5S tools such as custom workstations, roller racks or carts. A modular material handling system made of pipes and joints; Flexpipe helps companies move forward in a lean journey.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Excel Yamazumi Chart - Some serious charting.

I've been thinking a lot about Yamazumi charts lately. After posting about a pretty cool online Yamazumi chart last week, I did some sleuthing. It's true that more and more of my time is spent "connected", so it's refreshing to see people creating web-based tools that we can use without downloading anything.

But I find when it comes to the heavy lifting, I still revert back to good ol' Microsoft.

MS Excel has been around since 1987 according to Wikipedia. That's enough time for people to create all kinds of awesome stuff! Take this amazing Excel Yamazumi chart, for example:

excel yamazumi chart

Is it just me, or does a chart like this make everyone else giddy too?

This Excel Yamazumi chart has all the bells and whistles! 

First, the basics: 
A Yamazumi chart lines up all the operations and charts them side-by-side. Each operation is clearly shown in comparison to the others. In the example above, we have seven operations.

With a single glance, some balance issues are clear. The third operation (Buff Three Parts) is the quickest, at about 23 seconds, while the fifth operation (Attach Bracket) takes the longest. Operator three will have some idle time, while operator five will struggle to keep up. Without inventory limits , parts will build up quickly after 3 and 4.

All this is simple to see within a quick 10 second analysis, showing the power of a simple Yamazumi chart.

Second, the takt time is clearly displayed as a dotted line along the top. Once again, it is clear without any indepth analysis that there are some operations which are greater than the takt time, creating a potential for short shipments.

Actually, upon closer inspection at the actual formulas in the Excel sheet, the dotted line turns out to be mean cycle time, not the takt time. Average cycle time is not quite as useful, but formulas are easy to adjust, and the sheet is not locked, so it's dead easy to change this.

These two things give us the basic Yamazumi features. But there's more...

Let's look at some of the advanced chart features:

excel yamazumi chart breakdown
Operations 3-5

Above is a close-up of Operations 3-5. We can see details of the operation with the least work vs the one with the most work. These details are inside each bar! Each bar in the bar chart contains the entire sequence of steps that make up the process. Voila! This Yamazumi is a "stacked bar" chart.

Why is a stacked bar chart helpful?

A Yamazumi chart is also called a work balance chart for a reason. When it's time to balance this inefficient process, we can easily see how long the individual steps for each process take. Looking at the chart, we can propose taking some steps from #5 and adding them to # 3, to give us a much more balanced process.

Realistically, we would need to go to the gemba and verify.

For example, is it possible to "Apply First Label" in a different operation, so that operator # 5 has less work? It all depends on what the label looks like, where on the part it has to be applied, if any other operation depends on it, or if something else needs to happen first.

A Yamazumi chart will highlight potential, but a trip to the gemba will reveal truth. 

Finally, this particular Yamazumi chart has another interesting feature, usually found on Value Stream Maps. Each step has a label applied to it. Is the activity "Value-added", "Non-value added", or simply straight up "Waste?"

value added pie chart

These labels allow us to visualize more nifty things. Underneath each bar, there's a little pie chart that shows the percentage of value added versus non-value added activity. Our job as lean champions is to attack waste, and these small dials make it easy to see where to focus. A nice little kaizen to the Yamazumi chart!

Are you interested in an Excel Yamazumi chart like this? You should be!

I'm sad to say that I didn't make this Excel file, but the good news is that it's free and available for download at Someone put a lot of work into this sheet, so why recreate it?

Also, you can find a whole range of other Excel templates on the adaptivebms tools page, including a 5S audit sheet, a red tag template, ishikawa diagram and tons of statistical tools!

I've added this tool to my list of free lean tools and downloads.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Online Yamazumi Charts - Find Balance in Your Work

I love Yamazumi charts! I'm a geek, so I think all charts are pretty cool, but Yamazumi charts are awesome because they have the best sounding name! Yamazumi charts are often called work balance charts, but come on. . . this is one time where the Japanese name wins, hands down!

awesome yamazumi chart

What the heck is a Yamazumi Chart?

A yamazumi chart takes the entire process and breaks down the individual work tasks by station. It's essentially a bar graph, where each bar represents an operation. By visualizing all the tasks side by side, it's easy to identify bottlenecks and look for balancing opportunities.

The vertical axis is a time measurement, usually in seconds. A standard time, generally takt time, is also plotted on the graph. While yamazumi charts can be used for training, they're most often used during process design, line balancing activities and waste elimination kaizens.

A standard bar chart is a great illustrative tool to show the state of the entire process. But often a stacked bar chart is used to show the work elements within each step. Yamazumi is Japanese for "stack up," and when you're digging deeper into the process, a stacked bar chart is helpful to see what elements can be moved to create a better balance.

Online Yamazumi Chart

Lean Lab has developed an online version of a Yamazumi chart. It's pretty neat! If you're tired of Excel charts and want a little different look, the graphics are cool. And if your computer is an Internet-enabled tablet, you can just bring this up on the web and enter the times right at the gemba!

On the left side is the input table, with a place for naming each operation and the takt time. I created a fictitious process to generate the chart below. As you can see, I'm in danger of shorting the customer!

yamazumi chart
My sample process is NOT good enough. Gluing takes too long!

Lean Lab has put together a few other lean tools, including a web-based Takt Time Calculator, I posted about before. They also have an excel version of the Yamazumi chart:  Excel Yamazumi Chart

If you're looking for more lean tools like this, check out my full list of free lean resources in the sidebar.