Showing posts with label lean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lean. Show all posts

Monday, January 14, 2013

90 Seconds of Lean Training

Last week I linked to a short and sweet video describing TPS, or the Toyota Production System. Short videos are cool because they can add some visual stimulation to a longer training session. But last week's video was missing one key element, namely takt time.

So I went looking for another miniature video and found the following:

This video starts with customer value. This minimizes the risk of optimizing non-value added processes. If you think about the customer first, you'll end up working on the right process (most likely) and you take a broader view, looking at the entire value stream.

After identifying four principles of lean, the video shows how these principles can help you reduce waste in your process. But instead of focusing on slimming down the process, the video talks about growing your business, using lean to become more competitive. A nice positive approach!

The 4 Principles of Lean: 

  1. Pull - Customer demand pulls through your process
  2. One piece flow - Reduce work in process
  3. Takt - How fast you have to work to meet customer demand
  4. Zero Defects - Don't pass on defects
Rather than emphasizing how lean can speed up your process, the video below explains how lean tells you to produce according to customer demand, ie. following the takt time. And what better way than using an assembly line in a bakery. 

Watch the video on youtube here. 

So there we have it. Another simple video to add to your bag of training tools. For more videos, check out my massive page of free lean videos.

Monday, January 7, 2013

TPS in Two Minutes

Here's a short video that explains TPS in simple terms. At two minutes, this video only scratches the surface of the Toyota Production System by focusing on the two pillars, Just-in-Time and Jidoka.

Just-in-Time - Toyota is more efficient by not keeping any excess inventory on hand.

Jidoka - At Toyota, anyone can stop the line for a quality problem.

Obviously, JIT and jidoka are considerably more than simply reduced inventory and andon cords, just like TPS is so much more than JIT and jidoka. But for people who think TPS is something you use to clean your walls before painting, this brief introduction can lead to a broader discussion. Perhaps you could use it to open a lean training session.

Just look at that itty bitty Toyota factory!

What first caught my attention is the use of unique graphics and a nice clean font. I think it's a brilliant example of how to do a proper presentation. Each slide has a minimum amount of information and the illustrations are professional grade, yet still whimsical. Well done!

From a content point of view, the first slide threw me off immediately by stating the goal of TPS was to
"make and deliver vehicles in the quickest and most efficient way possible."
Now I know we're dealing with the basics here, but this bugs me a little bit. Efficiency is key in TPS, but quicker is not always the answer. "Takt time" is a critical aspect of the Toyota Production System. Sometimes we'll need to slow down to meet customer demand! We can do this more efficiently by working with less people, or perhaps doing multiple parts.

Apart from that minor pet peeve, I do like the video. Simple and to the point. The final few sentences emphasize the long-term thinking of TPS, continuous improvement and the importance of the employees. So it's not all just-in-time and jidoka!

Looking for more lean videos? Click here to check out the entire collection!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lean Production Cell - What is it exactly?

In what appears to be a series on lean production cells and U-shaped cells, I bring you yet another video showing a lean or circular work cell.

What's a lean production cell?

  1. One work cell produces a family of parts.
  2. Machines are grouped together to reduce inventory and motion.
  3. Labour can be easily balanced within the work cell. 
  4. Labour can be flexible depending on the customer demand.

Traditional manufacturing focused on large batch sizes coming from each process. A machining centre that makes hundreds of parts, then sends them across the plant to the grinding area, which finessed the parts and sends them off to final assembly.

A lean work cell contains everything you need to make a part. No more large batch processes with WIP in-between. No more transporting parts to the next department on the other side of the factory floor.

The challenge can be finding inexpensive ways to perform higher duration and higher cost processes, like painting, curing, molding, coating. . . processes that require expensive specialized equipment.

Sometimes there's no easy solution, but the closer you can get to single piece flow, the shorter your lead time becomes and the more flexible you become.

How does the next video measure up? Let's take a look:

Due to youtube fuzziness, I can't be sure of the exact process steps, or what is being manufactured, but one thing caught my eye. The blue box in the background is like a black box. . . who knows what's going on inside. It has a cycle time that's longer than the other steps.

The operator loads big blue, then moves to the back of the box and picks up the completed part from the previous cycle. Around the 30 second mark, the blue box cycle is completed and a part pops out. Voila! The operator doesn't care, because she's moved on to the next step and beyond. There's no waiting for the machine, as the time is filled up with additional value added steps.

Each part is completed from start to finish, one at a time, with no WIP inventory.

You could easily add two more operators in here and triple the output if the requirements go up.

Why work in a circle? At the end of each cycle, the operator is right beside the start point again.

If I were to make any further changes, I would move the work stations closer together to reduce some of the walking. In particular, the station on the left is pretty far, and the box on the weigh scale takes up a lot of room. Perhaps turning the box so the operator is presented with the short end could help tighten up the work cell. It looks like the operator is just dropping the part in the box anyway (scale measures the quantity).

Lean is a continuous process and once you make change like this, you're sure to notice more opportunities.

For more posts about lean production cells, check out the following:
The U-shaped production cell - Slow down to become more lean.

U-shaped Lean Work Cell - 3 Linked Machining Centreswhat
Lean Manufacturing Video - 2 Benefits of U-shaped Work Cells

Monday, November 19, 2012

The U-shaped Manufacturing Cell - Slow down to become more lean.

Linking work cells together is the best way to reduce work in process and improve work balancing. Last time, I posted a video of a valve maker putting three pieces of machining equipment together. The reasoning behind their use of a U-shaped cell was to improve throughput. But what if you don't need to go faster? You don't want to succumb to the waste of overproduction!

When the takt time for your customer is slower than your process cycle time, you may need less operators than machines. One operator will have to run multiple machines. Assuming you're not using the machines for any other product - special purpose machines - you should try to level production across your available working time.

Level production, or heijunka, is one reason you might change to a U-shaped cell. By balancing your tasks so that your cycle time meets your customer takt time, you may need to run slower, with less operators. Sometimes you just have to slow down to be more efficient.

Look at the following video of one man running multiple machines. Actually, there are two videos in the clip below. The first part shows an operator working in a U-shaped work cell by himself, while the second part shows two, maybe three, operators working in a different U-shaped cell.

The work cells contain multiple machines. You could throw in a few more operators and increase throughput significantly, but maybe you don't need to. One operator works one machine, then moves on to the next, while the first machine is running. In the second half of the video, the operators carry  their heavy parts on something that looks like a cafeteria tray, just sliding it along to each machine.

In U-shaped cells, the operators can be balanced across different machines. One operator can run 1 machine, while another runs 3. Depending on the work load, you have options.

Why does it have to be a U-shape?

Technically, you can achieve some of the same gains working in a straight line. Automakers have made cars in straight lines for years, however, those lines move while the operator stays in the same place. The benefit of the U-shape is that the operators can cross over onto the other side of the work cell. This allows them to end up in the same place as they started.

Look closely around the 0:54 second mark. The operator moves the tray down the line, then crosses over to pick up the part on the opposite side. Then he works on the opposite side until he gets back to the start again, where he'll cross back and begin the cycle again.

Of course, there's always room for improvement. In the videos above, there's a lot of walking. Can the machines be placed closer together? Who knows. They look pretty big, so I expect it would be an expensive relocation. It appears that he could be traveling too far, so when he crosses over he has a long walk back. The operator in the distance would be doing the same and there may be an opportunity to create a closer cross-over point.

Does anyone else have experience with U-shaped cells? Does anyone else get dizzy walking in a circle all day?

Monday, November 5, 2012

U-shaped Lean Work Cell - 3 Linked Machining Centres

In this video, a valve maker demonstrates a lean U-shaped work cell, consisting of three machining centres. Each station machines a different section of the same part, instead of one operator making the entire part at one machine. The parts are passed from machine to machine, with no WIP in between.

I love seeing examples of other people's lean activities. Doing something yourself is always the best way to learn. After fighting through the problems, you end up intimately familiar with what works and what doesn't.

But seeing other lean successes is a great way to expand beyond your own environment. And it's incredibly easy to critique someone else!

Why did this manufacturer decide to use three machines instead of one?


Using simple math, if the entire process takes 15 minutes, the throughput for a one machine set-up is 15 minutes per part. For three machines, the throughput is 5 minutes per part.

I've made a few comments below, but watch the video first.
Here's the video:

How is this work cell lean? 

Depending on the customer demand, we may have to increase takt time to meet production. In this case, we're dealing with with general purpose equipment - machining centres - where we typically do not want to run to takt time. The equipment is expensive and can be used to run other product, so by running fast and focusing on quick die changes, we can make maximum use of the equipment.

Secondly, by dividing up the work load between three machines, the cell becomes flexible. Need more parts? Maximize output and run with four people. Or reduce your throughput by running with 1 person! You can speed up or slow down the cell when the customer demand fluctuates.

Finally, lean is all about respect for people. A person should never have to wait for a dumb machine. I'm not sure how autonomous these machining centres are, but loading a part, cycling the machine and waiting for the machine to finish is a waste of resources. By splitting the work between machines, a single operator can be working at one machine while the other is running (if possible).  

What do you think? Is this a waste of capital equipment or an efficient lean work cell? 

I've added this video to my massive list of free lean training videos. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

What is Lean Manufacturing?

There have been many attempts to define exactly what lean manufacturing is. Some call it TPS, after the Toyota Production System, while others attempt to define it by what it does.

Lean reduces waste. Lean creates more efficient operations. Lean improves flow. Lean creates an improvement culture. Lean is about respect for people. Lean is a tower in Italy. Lean identifies value. Lean makes problems visible.

How do you concisely describe something that many authors have written multiple books about? Lean's very simple and at the same time extremely complex. You'll recognize it when you see it. It's true that lean is about reducing time to the customer, improving the value-added portion of manufacturing and reducing waste. But when you get right down to looking at your process, lean is common sense. Reduce the number of touches. Reduce redundant work. Basic steps that make sense, yet for some reason, no one's gotten around to doing it yet.

What is lean manufacturing?

Here's a short little video that might be useful for your next training session. A three minute video from SME that introduces lean in simple terms. It's a bit of an older video, but lean concepts are universal, not dependent on silly things like age. Although time is critical to determining efficient processes and calculating customer demand, but I digress. . . watch the video:

There's a little bit of fluff in the video. . . It's just a basic introduction to lean manufacturing. However, the part that stands out for me is the graphic showing the coin divided into value added and non value added work. Anyone that's done value stream mapping will understand this ratio. Traditional manufacturing tends to grow the coin to increase value added content and make more money.  Lean turns that around by maintaining the size of the coin, but only growing the value-added portion. By focusing on reducing non value added activities, there's more room for money making processes, without adding more labour.

This coin graphic is a clear way to explain how efficient lean operations are not focused on reducing labour, but rather making more money with existing overhead. A work force worried about their jobs will never be engaged. I'll be using this graphic in my next explanation of lean, even if I have to sketch it out on a napkin.

I've added this video to my list of free lean training videos. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Standard Work Instructions - The T-shirt Folding Exercise

Many lean trainers use a folding t-shirt game to teach standard work. I posted a video before showing some ninja t-shirt folding which I've seen used for lean training.

T-shirt folding is great exercise for lean training. It's simple and doesn't require any special material besides a t-shirt. Everyone's familiar with this basic article of clothing and, in general, most people hate to fold laundry. Why not show everyone a more efficient way to perform this mundane task?

And if you want to reward your team, let them keep the t-shirt at the end of the training. Heck, why not splurge and buy some real lean t-shirts with incredibly witty slogans on them!
(Disclaimer: I designed that shirt, so only positive comments, please).

Recently I found a few other videos on t-shirt folding and I wanted to update the whole t-shirt folding phenomenon.

The first one is a simple demonstration of the classic folding technique:

Watch it directly on youtube here.

The second one gives more details, including precisely where to draw the line with your hand, instructions on where to pinch the shirt and how to cross your arms and shake it.

If you can't see the above video, you'll have to head over to youtube and watch it there.

So what do you do with these videos?

After having a few laughs and struggling with your group's terrible folding techniques, use a stop watch and time everyone folding their t-shirts simultaneously.

Develop a standard work for t-shirt folding. Isolate each of the job elements and go through the instructions step by step. Then time your group again. The results will clearly show the benefits of standard work. You can't argue with data! Well, you can, but you'll probably lose.

There's a few additional standard work examples on my previous post on the subject, but I've also found this comprehensive presentation on standardized work and TWI. The presentation includes a job breakdown sheet for the t-shirt folding exercise on page 47.

So, get your people together, head for the laundromat (or boardroom) and get folding! And then tell us about it in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Lean Paper Airplanes! Another lean paper folding simulation

Here's a great little video of a lean simulation, put together by a team of university students. Using a humourous approach, they show how to run a lean simulation using paper airplanes. This video could even stand as a training tool in and of itself. You can learn basic lean concepts just by watching the video, but nothing beats doing it yourself!

What's in the video?

  • A lean simulation with folded paper airplanes
  • Identification of waste in the process 
  • Timing of special order through the system 
  • Problem solving using the 6 Thinking Hats Method 
  • Revised simulation with kanban implemented and kaizen applied to the process
  • Next level of improvement with line balancing and jigs for folding
  • Music from the Angry Birds game
Watch the video and see how they pull it off. I'll break down the paper airplane simulation steps below the video if you're interested in details. 

If you can't see the embedded video above, you can watch it on youtube here.

Paper airplane simulation steps:

This particular lean simulation is done with 4 operators, but could be modified to run with more. The key is to make sure that one operator has more work than the others, so a bottleneck is created. Even better, create two teams to compete against each other.

I've outlined the steps below, but I discovered it's pretty difficult to describe how to fold a paper airplane with just words. Perhaps another game can be created out of this, similar to Standard Pig?

Update: I've created a one-page graphic to illustrate the steps below. Click here to get it!

Phase 1
  1. Operator 1 folds the paper in half length-wise.
  2. Operator 2 opens the paper and folds 2 points to the centre-line. Then he folds the pointed end down and folds the paper back in half again. Then he tears off a square corner of the folded paper. Total: 1 open, 4 folds and 2 tears. 
  3. Operator 3 opens the paper and folds two corners to the centre. Then he folds the first corner through the tear that was made by operator 2 and folds the paper in half again. Total: 1 open, 4 folds.
  4. Operator 4 folds the two sides down to form the final wings. Total: 2 folds.
It's clear that Operator 2 has significantly more work and inventory soon builds up. At some point introduce a coloured paper and time how long it gets through the system. Make sure the orange paper follows through the queue of inventory properly. No jumping the line!

Phase 2
  1. No change to the steps each operator does. 
  2. Kanban is introduced by only allowing two spots for inventory. If both spots are full, then upstream operator must not produce. 
  3. Scissors are introduced for operator 2 and a scrap bin for the off-cuts.
  4. Packaging used for finished goods. 
  5. Raw material has a designated labeled spot.
The main focus in Phase 2 appears to be kanban to reduce inventory and 5S to improve workplace organization. But the line is still unbalanced and everyone will be waiting for operator 2. 

Phase 3
  1. Operator 1 does first fold lengthwise, then folds two corners to the centre line. He also folds the pointed end down before passing to the next operation. He uses a jig to make the first fold. Total: 4 folds
  2. Operator 2 uses a jig and scissors to cut a square from the corner. Total: 2 cuts
  3. Operator 3 folds the two corners down to the centre and folds the tip up through the cut corner. Total: 3 folds 
  4. Operator 4 folds the plane in half and then folds the two final wings down. Total: 3 folds.
Looks like the workflow is balanced and everyone is happy! 

This is a fairly simple lean simulation to perform using only standard office supplies. The video is nice, since it shows the steps for each phase. You could do this with pretty much any paper airplane set of instructions, but this one seems to work well, since it requires a cutting process.

Like most lean games, it's important to run a sub-optimal process first with a bottleneck, so that everyone can see how inventory builds up. Then introduce limits to work in process to reduce inventory in the system. Finally, do some work balancing to speed up the overall cycle, or reduce operators.

Have you led or participated in a paper airplane folding simulation? Was it like this one? Or did your airplane look different? Let us know in the comments below.

I've added this post to my massive list of lean games and simulations!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lean gone Lego interview - Lego talking heads

How sticky are your lean projects? Should we even be calling them projects, or are we creating lifestyles? How often does a well-intentioned team spend a few weeks of blood, sweat and tears working out a tricky problem and changing the process for the better. . . only to see the process revert back to the original state after a few months?

Why does this happen?

Perhaps something wasn't taken into account. Maybe the process just can't work the new way. Are upstream processes working against you? What about downstream? Who owns the process?

Let's look at a model Lean transformation. The Lean gone Lego video shows the Red Trolley factory before and after lean took hold. But what happened a year later? Was the change still in effect?

Here's the first of a series of interviews that shed some light on how Lean took root:

Watch the video on youtube here:

Ever hear of "Best Repeatable Cycle Time?" After all our intricate time studies, lean best practices tell us to take the best repeatable time for each process element. Realistically, we will not hit this cycle time. . . yet. There's reasons why cycle times fluctuate and those reasons need to be addressed.

When we implement change, we plan for the best Lean process.

And when bad things happen, the process falls apart. Exactly as it should! Because Lean makes our problems visible, instead of hiding them.

But what happens when we walk away before the problems arise? The process needs to be continually tweaked and tuned to get rid of these problems. A lone lean guru won't be there when the problems come back. The process owners need to be on board and engaged. They will be the solvers. And if they aren't committed, mentored and driven, they'll just revert the process back because it worked better before!

Here's another interview with a worker at the Red Trolley factory:

Watch it on youtube here:

Now, I'm not going crazy. Well, maybe just a little bit. But I do realize these are just Lego people. I wanted to post these videos because they provide a little update on the Lean gone Lego video which I think is an amazing piece of work. You could use these interviews as a brief interlude during a long training session. Show the main one, then provide an update at the end of the class.

I also wanted to highlight some of the issues of changing a culture and getting engagement from all levels of production. If you don't get your supervisors and shop leaders on board, you will FAIL.

Some key statements by Lego figures:
"We couldn't see the value because we had so much crap lying around!"
"The managers listen to us. We're not as frustrated."
"We're really solving our problems all together now."
 "We feel like it's our place now."
 That's right. Straight from the Lego minifigures' mouths. Have you heard anyone in your area speaking like this lately?

Speaking of interviews, I was featured today on Tim McMahon's blog, A Lean Journey.
Head on over to check it out!

I've added this video to my comprehensive list of free lean training videos.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Using Lean to get Lean

We all use kaizen techiniques to get our factories, our administrative processes and hospitals lean, but what about ourselves?

I found this slide share presentation on the forums, submitted by Sam Xia. He decided to use lean in his personal life, to reduce weight. The following is his documentation of the process.

Losing weight is one of the more difficult aspects of our lives. It's incredibly hard to sustain due to our natural desire for pizza, ice cream and Dr. Pepper! That's why weight loss is a billion dollar industry. Sam's figured out his own way to kick the fat, using kaizen.
All the lean tools are present in Sam's Personal Management system. He uses the PDCA cycle to Plan, Do, Check and Adjust his process. Starting with an A3, he develops the problem statement and background. He clearly identifies the current condition (191 pounds) and drills down to the root cause using 5 whys.

He sets his target, to lose 31 pounds in 90 days, and then develops a list of countermeasures, including standardizing his meal portions and exercise routines.

The best part about this process is how well-documented it is. Sam includes pictures of all his countermeasures and has a beautiful A3 completed for this project. The results are clear! He looks like a different person. Check out the 26-slide presentation below:

Self Kaizen case study-How I lose 29lb weight in 90 days! from samxia

I'm know I could never be this meticulous with Lean in my personal life. In fact, I've been blessed with a super-metabolism and I can't gain weight if I wanted to. I just attribute this to the purveyance of lean throughout my whole life. I'm the "leanest" person I know.

But I do love Sam's approach. I also try to standardize things at home. Our home is small, so we naturally don't keep a lot of extra "inventory" of anything. I do use a two-bin system for BBQ propane. When one tank runs out, I have another one lined up ready to go. I find that when you create systems, it removes stress from your life, since you have less to worry about.

How have you used Lean in your personal life?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Perfect Transaction - A perfect Powerpoint presentation

How do you define the perfect lean process? Is there one? What does the perfect process look like? 

It's easy to look at an existing scenario and say, "Let's eliminate waste!" 

This Powerpoint is no longer available. But maybe you can make your own with a little effort?

We organize work areas, we get rid of unnecessary items, we move things closer together, we create work cells, we level production, we cut back on work-in-process, we figure out what information's important and track it visually, we use simple pull systems, we develop complicated pull systems, we respect our people, we create a culture of continuous improvement, but what's the goal? Are we ever going to reach it?

It's clear that no process is ever perfect and there's always room for improvement, but sometimes we can just get so caught up in the incremental improvements, the "kaizens", that we lose focus on the big picture. 

I came across this useful Powerpoint presentation that describes the perfect transaction. In a transactional environment like a bank or insurance company (or any large business for that matter), the processes that make and lose money for the business are transactions. So what does a perfect process look like?

Let's look at each point individually

Completed by one person:

Completed by one person means no hand-offs to another person. This is counter intuitive to the manufacturing environment. When the cycle time of a process exceeds the takt time, we need to add a person. In a physical process, we would divide up the work like an assembly line, however, in a transactional world, the information hand-off can take longer than the work involved. In these cases it's better to work in parallel rather than in series.

Completed one at a time (no batching):

Although it may be easier to store up like bunches of material to do at all at once, this slows down the over all cycle time creates inventory.

Completed as soon as the request is made:

No waiting. This one's obvious!

Completed without interruption:

This one seems obvious too, but how many times are you interrupted while at your desk? You're going to be in the middle of something. The perfect transaction has no interruptions, since they lead to defects and waiting.

Completed with the information provided:

If you have to ask for more information, than something's wrong. Accurate and complete data leads to less interruptions, less waiting, less defects.

Completed correctly:

I hope so! Yet so hard to accomplish. Check out this article on how there are errors in 84% of San Francisco house foreclosures!

It never returns:

Wonderfully stated. No errors, no rework. 

So have you experienced the perfect transaction? It's highly unlikely. Although with today's automated systems we're getting closer. And that's what kaizen is all about. We may not be able to get to the perfect process right now, but these small steps are meant to get us closer to the goal of a perfect transaction.

This very useful transactional lean Powerpoint presentation is available from the same place as the Standard Pig exercise and a great paperwork simulation.  Not only do we get the above description of the Perfect Transaction, you also get deeper discussion points about barriers to good information flow and specific tips to reduce inaccuracies. I'm not an expert on information flow, but it makes sense to me to use drop down menus instead of typing information into boxes.

If you're working on lean in a place where information is the process, than you need to see this presentation. Simple, yet effective. You can no longer download this, since the link is broken.But still feel free to head on over to the Minnesota State Lean page to view all the available resources.

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

Do you have anything to add to the Perfect Transaction? Feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Lean Start-up Snowflake Game

Snowflake Game
Imagine a beautiful winter wonderland with snowflakes silently falling all around you. Now look out the window. . . we can dream, can't we?

I know we all can't wait for winter, so here's a little game to get you out of those summer blahs.

I found the lean Snowflake Game posted on It's not a "batch vs single piece flow" kind of lean game, but more of a customer oriented lean game.

We've learned from an early age that "the customer's always right", but do we know what the customer wants to begin with? We could save ourselves a lot of frustration if we can nail down the customer requirements up front. The Snowflake Game would be ideal for a service oriented lean roll-out, where the customer's desires are not always quantifiable.

Starting with a simple piece of paper, teams fold paper and cut out snowflakes to satisfy a fickle customer. The acceptance criteria is tough, and not only will the customer reject poor quality snowflakes, but your customer assigns a value to each one, where more intricate snowflakes are rewarded with more money.

Minimum acceptance criteria: snowflake must have a general sense of being round, it must have 3 axes of symmetry, and must have even, precise cuts. Torn paper, squares/rectangles, lots of overcuts on the snowflake, paper that the audience supplied–will all be rejected. Every time a snowflake is presented to you, give simple and direct feedback, e.g., I can’t buy this because these edges are torn–the quality isn’t high enough; this one doesn’t say “round” to me, can’t buy it; this is beautiful–I’ll give you $1 for it! Don’t haggle, just move on to the next vendor.
Valuation of snowflakes: Intricate, unique, symmetrical, beautiful snowflakes will be bought for $1-$5. In the first round, I never see anything worth more than $1. I rarely pay as much as $3. Encourage innovation by telling people “this is the first time I’ve seen a signed snowflake! $2!” or some such comment. Encourage intricacy–”wow–lots of space cut out, I like that”.  Size matters–small snowflakes often can be purchased only two for a dollar unless they’re particularly ornate. As you buy snowflakes, either attach them to the wall or arrange them on the table in order of low value to high value. We’re not stating it in an obvious way, but hint at the valuation scheme every once in a while by hovering a new snowflake over the spectrum and say that this one “fits right about here, ok, $2″.

Of course, none of the teams know the customer's acceptance criteria up front. Only through successive iterations of the game, do they slowly learn the customer's needs and wants.

All this snowflake craziness is done in three minute sprints. Three minutes to make snowflakes, three minutes to debrief, three minutes to make snowflakes, three minutes to debrief, etc.

The Snowflake Game is a different sort of lean game. Designed for lean start-ups, it excels when your company produces a creative product, such as software development or an industry with a heavy focus on customer satisfaction.

The Snowflake game can be played as a demonstration of "getting what we measure." In this other example, the Snowflake game is run first with the target of making as many snowflakes as possible. After a debrief, the game is played again with the target changed to "Produce as many snowflakes that are beautiful enough to sell." Different targets produce different results.

Learn more about the Snowflake Game at the game page on 

I've added this game to my huge list of lean games and simulations.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lean Waste Walk Template - Can You Walk and Write?

Waste Walk
After writing a detailed post about waste walks, I decided to use a template in one of my kaizen events. While we had a goal to focus on in our specific process, I thought a short waste walk would be a good way to review the 8 wastes and introduce the team to the process. Normally we have a keen eye for waste, but I haven't used a waste walk template before.

I dutifully looked at the informative slide show from last week and picked up the audit sheet at the end. We used a similar sheet, but I fine-tuned my own version in Excel.

What I found was that the waste audit form was comprehensive, covering all the 8 Wastes. Excellent!

Lean Waste Audit
Waste Audit from Previous Post
However, there wasn't enough room to write down all the wastes. In particular, if there was different types of the same waste identified, there was only room for one to be written down. And the opposite applied if there wasn't a specific waste. No Waiting? Leave it blank. . .

At the end of the walk, everyone's sheet had lots of tiny writing crammed into some of the boxes and blank spaces in the other ones. The audit sheet wasn't balanced!

But guess what? We reviewed the information and came up with a great list of wastes and resolutions. Ultimately, the entry sheet doesn't matter. The actions do. 

Of course I couldn't just leave it. After the kaizen event wrapped up and I summarized our data, I thought about ways to make it smoother for next time. How could I balance the waste walk and kaizen the kaizen event?

Tonight I put together this new waste walk template. Rather than having a line for each waste, I listed all the wastes across the top. Now each line can be any type of waste you find. After writing down the issue, just identify which of the 8 Wastes describes it best and write it in the "Type" column.

When you review the waste walk results as a team, you can still go through all the wastes and check if any were missed.

So, here it is! My improvement of the improvement process. I tried to keep it as simple as possible, since simple works for me.

By the way, the best tool to use while walking and writing is a clipboard. Any notebook that opens into a book is terrible for writing while walking. Just remember to look up every once in awhile!

Lean Waste Walk Template

The waste walk template file is embedded into the post just above this sentence. If you can't see it, you can access the file on Scribd here:

Try it out and leave some feedback in the comments!

I've added this post to my continuously growing list of lean tools and downloads!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Worlds Collide! How a Waste Walk Helps You Trim the Fat

If you're not careful when searching for lean information, a simple typo will take you in a completely different direction. The word "lean" is a catch phrase in the health and dieting world. And if you are looking for information on reducing waste, be sure you don't spell waste with an "ai"!

However, there is one instance where the world of continuous improvement overlaps with the health and wellness sector. 

The Waste Walk!

Found on a Waist Walk?
Like any good exercise regime, the waste walk will help you and your team get out of your chair and become active, but the main focus is on identifying and reducing waste. A waste walk is designed to look for fat in your operations, and if done regularly, a waste walk may help you reduce inches off your waist as well! Worlds collide!

How Do You Conduct a Waste Walk?

Waste Walk Tool?
First, you need to know what you're looking for. What is waste? Before going on a waste walk, make sure your team knows what the 8 Wastes are. A waste walk is an improvement tool, but also a training opportunity.

Just remember the TIM WOOD acronym and you'll never forget the 8 wastes. One letter for each waste and you're off to the waste walk races. Well, you might forget the eighth one, since our friend TIM WOOD only covers 7 of them. But the 8th is easy to remember, the waste of talent!

  1. Transportation
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Overproduction
  6. Overprocessing
  7. Defects 
  8. Talent or Skills

Review each waste with you team, perhaps using a short video, like the toast kaizen video.

Once you have the wastes memorized, get out there and start looking for them!

Choose a specific process area to focus on and dedicate a block of time for the review. An hour should be enough depending on how complex the process is.

Now, watch the process run. Is there waste of motion? Is there excess inventory? What about waiting? Are defects being generated? Discuss with your team and write down everything. Just write them down first, don't fix them.

Make sure you bring a checklist, so no waste is being neglected. Everyone should have a place to write their observations.

I've embedded a presentation from Slideshare outlining the 7 wastes and providing an audit sheet to use on your waste walk.

Waste Walk ~ Audit

After collecting all the raw information, you need to come up with an action plan. Some of the fixes will be easy, while others will be impossible. Sit down with your team and make a list of actionable items with implementation dates. The walking is over, but the plan is just beginning.

Just remember, even though you are making an action plan, there's nothing stopping you from doing small things right away. If you can improve it now, then do it!

Now Standardize It!

Unlike a kaizen event, you won't have 5 days to implement your changes. The purpose of a waste walk is identifying the waste. By keeping it short, you can schedule them regularly. One hour a week, or perhaps once a month, get a team to review their own process. Make sure management and supervisors are involved. They will be responsible for implementation.

The action item list is key to sustaining the changes. Management needs to audit and ensure the identified changes are put in place.  

Regular waste walks are good for the organization and great for your waist!

Need some more tips? Check out the following video of a waste walk being performed in a hospital.

Here's the direct link to the video on youtube:

I've added this post to my list of lean tools. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Takt Time Calculator for Demanding Customers

Fine-toothed comb?
After two posts on cycle time analysis, a cycle time element chart and a cycle time tracking chart, it's time to figure out what the customer wants. It's nice to sit down and look at our own process with a fine toothed comb, but what are we measuring against? We need to know the takt time!

And since I seem to be on an Excel kick the last few posts, I've decided to find an Excel-based takt time calculator to join the team!

I've posted links to an online takt time calculator before, but the calculator below is downloadable if you want to add it to your Excel arsenal.

What's the difference between takt time and cycle time?

customer demand
A demanding customer!
Quite simply, cycle time is how fast our process is currently running and the takt time is how often the customer wants parts. In an optimized factory, the takt time and cycle time are very close.

Here's a handy video that explains takt time if you haven't had your morning coffee yet.

If Darth Vader is ordering 10,000 tie fighters per year and your space ship company is contracted for the job, how fast are you going to make them?

If you build them all year, then deliver them at the end of the year, two bad things will happen:

First, you'll have invested all your money in tie fighter raw material and you won't get paid until you deliver them. This money will be tied up and you'll be paying a tremendous amount of interest on it.

Secondly, Darth Vader will be wanting these tie fighters ASAP and will not wait for the end of the year when you'll give him 10,000 all at once. He wants the deliveries spread out, so he can start using them to replace those destroyed by the rebel alliance.

Your goal as a manufacturer is to make what the customer wants, when the customer wants it. No more, no less. Now we just enter the critical information into our Excel takt time calculator:

excel takt time calculator

If you need to make 10,000 per year, this works out to about 41.7 tie fighters per week, based on a 5 day work week and a few weeks of holidays. At three 8-hour shifts, you'll need to  pump out a tie fighter every 1899 seconds!

Now that you know the customer requirements, you can match your own process cycle time to the customer takt time and minimize inventories. If you build faster, you'll have to hold extra tie fighters in inventory and you won't get paid for them. If you build slower. . . well. . . would you want to miss a shipment to the Sith lord?

Check out the handy excel takt time calculator at 

Of course, there's always the non-evil option. You could build X-wing fighters for the rebel alliance, since we know how this story ends. I imagine you would want your business to survive the impending fall of the empire! 

I've added this post to my list of handy lean tools and downloads.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cycle Time Analysis Version two

lean excel charting
After posting the cycle time analysis template last week, I decided to look for an Excel file that charts itself. The time study chart is designed for pen and paper analysis on the shop floor, which is perfect when you're out there with your stop watch doing a time study. Or perhaps when you regroup with your team to go over the results together.

It's a clear method for comparing the different elements of the cycle time.

But now that the computer age has arrived (a few decades ago), I want more! In this exciting time of rapid technological advancement how about a sweet, computerized graph for tracking the process over a period of time? How does the cycle time fluctuate? If you take twenty cycles what's the variance?

Excel isn't necessarily the best tool for looking at statistics. For more in depth study, you should really be firing up Minitab or some other statistical software. However, if you simply want to chart a number of cycles and show them visually, then it's easy to put together a quick chart in Excel.

excel cycle time tracking

At, this excel work's been done for you. As a cycle time analysis tool, it works on a macro level. Instead of digging in to each element of the cycle, this chart tracks different cycles over time.

I wouldn't call this a lean tool so much, since it doesn't deal with best repeatable cycle times, customer demand and takt time, but it does give you an easy way to see the cycle time fluctuation.

And once you enter the numbers, the graph charts itself! Splendid.

Now you can ask the difficult questions! Why is the cycle time fluctuating and what can we due to reduce fluctuations. Variability is a productivity killer. Each spike represents a non-standard cycle that can indicate a problem. Once the information's visible, it's time to attack those problems.

Of course, you could quite easily make a little graph yourself in Excel, but if you're in a hurry, just download this one which is already created for you.

You can find the direct link here:

I've added this post to my page of helpful lean tools and free downloads. 

Want more Excel lean goodness? Check out Metrics-Based Process Mapping: An Excel-Based Solution.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lean Cycle Time Analysis Template

Talk about promising something that doesn't deliver. This document from bills itself as a Cycle Time Loading Chart. But it doesn't give you a chart! You have to draw it yourself. As if we didn't have enough work to do already. . .

Actually, this lean form is a very useful template for analyzing the cycle time of multiple operations. Meant to be filled out with a pencil or pen, it includes all the steps necessary for determining how many people you need in a given process.

This looks like an excellent presentation tool for a kaizen group. After determining the best repeatable cycle time for each process with your trusty stopwatch, you fill out the boxes on the top of the form. The graph paper below is set up so you can plot each cycle time on a bar chart.

Now you can compare the cycle times of each process. The chart's a great visual tool to see how balanced the process is at a glance. I usually draw these charts on a flip chart for comparison, but it's nice to see a template with all the information set up for you.

How does each process compare to takt time? 

The template doesn't let you forget this key information. On the right hand side is a place to calculate the takt time, by figuring out the available time and the demand. Once you have the takt time, you can add it to the chart you've created. If all goes as planned, the cycle times will be less than the takt time and you can do some re-balancing with your lean team.

With your handy chart in hand, the takt time calculated and plotted, you can now get down to some serious cycle time analysis. How many people do you need? Simply look in the bottom corner, enter your total cycle time and divide by the takt time. Voila! Cycle time analyzed.

This Excel cycle time analysis template can be found on the resource page for

Look for the template aptly titled "Cycle Time Loading Chart."

If you're looking for more free lean templates and forms, check out my list of helpful lean tools and downloads. They're free!

By the way, speaking of taking cycle times and using stopwatches, I hope everyone is using a good quality stopwatch. When performing cycle time studies, it's critical that you can store some history on your stopwatch. You don't want to break the cycle every time to record and reset. Believe me, a good quality stop watch goes a long way. 

This Seiko stop watch is the one I use for my cycle time analysis. It's not a Timex, but I've dropped it numerous times and it keeps on ticking. As I mentioned, the main thing to look for in a stop watch is the ability to store multiple readings. This Seiko stopwatch stores up to a hundred readings, but they go up to three hundred if you want to spend more money. It will make your life easier. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lego Storytelling Presents Toyota Kata

Here's a great slideshow dealing with Toyota Kata. Although the presentation is in Swedish, only a few of the slides have Swedish language text, so it's pretty easy to follow along. If you're having difficulty, I ran the slide notes through Google Translate and added it to the end of this post. It doesn't really add much, though. I prefer just looking at the cool pictures.

What is Toyota Kata?

Toyota Kata is a book written by Mike Rother. I have to say from the start that this is an awesome book and I highly recommend it.

The book talks about kata, which roughly translates from Japanese as a "way of doing." The improvement kata, as described by Mike Rother on his website, is the method of teaching and coaching improvement activities. The Toyota Kata? Toyota's way of coaching and reinforcing improvement throughout their organization. An excellent book for anyone looking at changing their workplace culture.

The slideshow talks about the improvement kata, with pictures. How should the team work together? What is the proper way of coaching? And the slideshow uses pictures of Lego figures going through an improvement session. On Hakan Forss's blog, he deals with the storytelling details in more depth. Many of the pictures with dialogue are translated into English.

Hakan Forss says, "No, REALLY go and see."

I love these slides. Reminiscent of the Lean Gone Lego video, the slides use little Lego people to tell a story. if you head over to Hakan's blog, you will see the whole narrative in English.  His focus is on an alternative to agile retrospectives, and using the PDCA cycle, with incremental improvements, is his chosen solution. 

Does it work in software development? I'm sure it does! The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle has been around for quite awhile and proven itself in many diverse environments. 

Here's the presentation below. As mentioned, I've added a transcript to the end of the post, but I suggest heading to Hakan's blog for the English details.

Poorly translated transcript of the presentation notes, slide by slide:

Toyota Kata, an alternative to retrospective DevSum 2012 - Presentation Transcript

1. Hakan Forss - Lean / Agile Coach Mail: hakan.forss @ Twitter: @ Håkan Forss Blog:
3. We have lots of good And nothing seems we need more suggestions, but all point to be really clear! focused way in different directions to improve our påHur do you think it will go?
4. What is a Kata?
5. The Improvement Kata Handbook is Copyright © 2012 by Mike Rotherhttp :/ / www / ~ mrother / Materials_to_Download.html
6. Our nästamåltillstånd is ...
7. Now everyone can focus when we know where we are on the next step we are making little to make it easier progress each day to find lösningarHur is it now?
8. Good morning Does everyone remember our goal state?
9. Four user storiesacceptanstestade and ready for release this week ...
10. How to see our current situation look like?
11. We will have three user stories ready for release, we will not have the next user story this week ready for release today!
12. What prevents us to get the next user story ready today?
13. I'm waiting for the test environment must be updated
14. What is our next step to get the test environment to date? I will deploy as soon as we can, but we are short on disk space again!
15. I will see what I can release.
16. When can we go see and what we have learned? About 2 hours
17. Good then we'll see you in 2 hours! Let's go all round ...
18. How dumorgonmötet went? Good. We take small steps forward all the time
19. I agree med.Små steps every day is the trick
20. Our goal state is Lead time: 12 dagarVad is your goal state variation: +50% -20% as you work with? Throughput: 4 u. / Week NPS: 50%
21. We have the following current state Lead time: 12 days Variation: +120% -22% Throughput: 3.5 us / veckaHur we stand? NPS: 20%
22. What hinderförhindar you to reach, we have identified the target state? the following problem ...
23. What barriers work How we deal with you now? our test environments
24. We will try to build new virtual test environment from a snapshot of each user storyVad is your next step?
25. I have discussed this with the team. It is not easy, but it sounds like a large lot is already in place såsteg? Each step should not we believe we can do detvara longer than a week.
26. We want to learn about the seasoned do you expect you to build a new environment per've learned in this step? user story
27. When can we go see vadvi have learned from taking a week this step?
28. The Improvement Kata Handbook is Copyright © 2012 by Mike Rother http :/ / www / ~ mrother / Materials_to_Download.html
29. Rocks!
30. How do we get to
31. Hakan Fors Mail: hakan.forss @ avegagroup.seTwitter: @ chin research blog:

I've added this post to my list of helpful lean training tools.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kanban Video Explanation in Spanish

Here's an interesting video illustrating the basics of kanban from a university in Cuauhtémoc, Mexico. Unfortunately the dialogue's in Spanish, but you should be able to get the gist of it without knowing the language. Or if you have a Spanish speaking group, this video explanation of kanban might be perfect!

The first thing that caught my eye in this video was the Lego robots. I'm a sucker for Lego and robots, so I knew I needed to investigate further.

The video shows a table laid out with everything needed to make Lego robots in a production line fashion. There are finished robots ready to ship and groups of sub-assemblies spread out in different areas on the table. Everything is clearly labeled.

After introducing the components, the narrator runs us through a production cycle and shows how a replenishment kanban system works. By "shipping" two robots to the customer, he immediately creates space in the finished robot area.

To fill this space, two robots are then fabricated from the subassemblies of bodies and arms. Upstream processes react this new void and create two new body subassemblies. Until all the small sub processes have responded and filled up the inventory back to predetermined levels.

This is how kanban works. The customer order triggers the processes to replace parts taken. Parts are pulled from each process, never pushed when there's no demand.

Since the video is in Spanish and my Spanish is non-existent, there may be some explanation of customer pull rates, process times and determining the correct inventory levels between each process. These are critical things to consider when implementing kanban in real life.

If anyone reading this can provide a rough translation of the presentation, I'd love to read it.

Check out the video, embedded below:

For a direct link on youtube, click here. 

I've added this to my list of free lean videos.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lean Manufacturing Video Example - Sheet Metal Forming

This lean sheet metal forming video comes from the creators of the Napkin Project video. The video below shows a simple sheet metal forming operation from start to finish. There are three processes in this lean work cell. Instead of banging out parts at each step, loading boxes into WIP storage and moving them to the next process, the work cell follows a single piece flow, using conveyors to link the processes and creating a finished part every 60 seconds.

Read my analysis below the video.

The first operation is a blanking machine. No operator is required here as each blank gets automatically dropped onto a conveyor and sent to the next operation.

The next operator deburrs the part, adds some components and sends it along to the next operation.

The final operator forms the part and does a complete inspection with a poke-yoke check fixture.

By linking the processes, the manufacturer has reduced internal WIP to almost zero and improved the overall cycle time from order to delivery.

Using conveyors is a great way to link your processes if it's cost prohibitive to move machines. However, conveyors are typically frowned upon in a lean implementation. Conveyors create islands where it becomes impossible to share work. If these operators were working beside each other, the work cell could become more flexible if customer demand changes. If the demand was lower, you could run with one person, or if demand increased you could add a third person. With conveyors creating two islands, you are trapping the labour and reducing opportunities for kaizen activities.

Obviously, the manufacturer has taken an existing batch process, moved to single piece flow and seen tremendous results. The benefits are clear. Reduced inventory and faster delivery times. This alone will make any manufacturer more competitive. But lean doesn't stop here. Any process can be optimized and, when cost and space allows, moving to a flexible work cell is the logical next step.

What do you think? Have you used conveyors to link machines? When does it make sense and when do we throw them away?

I've added this video to my ever growing list of free lean videos.