Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kaizen Only Goes So Far

It goes by many names: 2 Second Lean, 5S in 5 Minutes, Quick and Easy Kaizen and other non-branded techniques. Kaizen is often sold as the elixer to cure your organization.

And it's true! Kaizen works.

But don't take it from me. Lean professionals like Paul Atkers and Norman Bodek have years of experience under their belts, so this simple kaizen stuff must have something going for it.

kaizen ain't rocket science

Adjectives like quick and easy make it seem like lean is a no-brainer. So why isn't everyone doing it? And if it's so easy, why are there hundreds of books on the subject?

I like to think of lean implementation as a two sided coin. Two methods, working together for lean success. You can use them in isolation, but you'll have limited results.

The Quick and Dirty Kaizen

Quick kaizen is the first side of the coin. The word kaizen is often translated as "small change". Many kaizens means many small changes. These kaizen methodologies teach us to use lots of small kaizens to achieve big change.

A small kaizen is a great way to get immediate results. A pile of small improvements are visible, easy to understand and measurable. Creating a pilot cell is one way to showcase a list improvements and to spread the lean juice to the organization. And that's what kaizen is really about, engagement and culture change!

The true meaning of kaizen is "good change," or "change for the better." So kaizens can be small, but they can also be big. As long as they're good!

Small, quick kaizen activities are the best way to get employees on board and develop a lean culture. A kaizen event should be treated as a training tool and an investment in people. Once team members start coming up with their own kaizens, then you know things are moving in the right direction.

Check out this video example of an employee with a simple "2-Second Lean" kaizen.

That video is a great example of a simple kaizen implemented by a shop floor employee. Will it save a lot of money? No, but a combination of hundreds of these kaizens might!

Quick kaizens are all about employee engagement. With an engaged work force, you will be flooded with ideas. And if you empower your employees to follow through and do it themselves, then you've achieved a cultural shift.

However, in order to create a motivated band of kaizeners, you need to allocate some resources. Managers and supervisors need to be trained and coached. Plans need to be made.

And that's where the other side of the coin comes in.

The Lean Long View

If your business is failing, simple kaizen might not be enough to save it. Quick and easy kaizen is exactly what it claims. Easy and quick, but not necessarily game changing!

You may need to make some serious changes, and team members aren't always empowered to make them. Even simply sustaining an employee suggestion program is a large project that requires planning and thought.

Don't forget the big picture!

It's the same reason nobody wants to think about the fifth S in 5S (Sustain). It's too hard! It's easy to focus on the little improvements and forget the big picture.

Lean needs to be part of system design and strategic planning in order to make large leaps in productivity and profitability. Big, strategic decisions are where money is made and lost. You might be able to fix some problems with kaizen events, but often the group wonders why the money was spent on such an inefficient process to begin with.

Use A3's to plan your processes. Use value stream maps and standardized work before buying machinery. Use Hoshin Kanri to create shared strategic goals and focus on how to drive them into every level of every process. Hold daily stand-up meetings to communicate actions on how to achieve these goals.

Without a smart strategic approach, all the investment you put into kaizen will be wasted. Big money will be spent on the wrong things and lean efforts will regress, as the focus shifts.

Lean is a two-pronged fork. Use kaizen to get immediate results and engage your employees. Use Hoshin Kanri and lean management to get even closer to True North !

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lean Material Handling - Ditch the Forklift?

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

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there are 34,900 serious injuries, including 85 fatal accidents per year in the Unites States involving forklifts. 11% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident each year and the manufacturing industry is the most affected with 42.5% of fatal accidents.

Many work-related factors can cause accidents with forklift trucks, such as lack of training, poor maintenance, blocked vision, improper backing, speed, poorly stacked loads, improper communication or workplace design.

In assembly factories, poor workplace design is one of the main factors for forklift accidents. Creating designated walkways to separate pedestrians and forklifts is a must in the industry, but poor workplace design also includes narrow, crowded and cluttered aisles, working in the general area of forklift operations and mainly forklift traffic in work areas.

Traffic in work areas occurs when forklifts are used to handle and transport input, work in progress or output to work cells. Most companies have limited work space increasing the risk of accidents. To reduce the risk of accidents, process engineers need to consider handling the material differently.

Light materials (less than 2000lbs) can be handled by using jiggers, conveyors, push carts, tugger carts or by redesigning the floor layout and redefining processes. The spaghetti diagram is a good tool to review forklift congestion.

Safety is not the only concern for reducing forklift use; maintenance, congestion, flexibility and productivity also benefit from this change.

For example, instead of carrying 1 load of finished products at a time from a work area to storage area with a fork lift, tugger carts can be used to carry multiple loads of finished products including empty carts that can be left in work areas afterwards. Furthermore, tugger operators always have a clear view because the loading is done in the back.

Forklifts should be restricted to their designated work areas, where vertical storage is needed or for shipping purposes. This should contribute in the reduction of accidents involving forklifts.

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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Storytelling, facilitating teams and the White Albatross game

A poorly run meeting can be a complete waste of time, but a team can accomplish a lot in a well-run meeting. Since we spend a lot of time in meetings, how come there's no training simulation for how to run a meeting?

Well, actually there is! The White Albatross game is an exercise in facilitation. i.e. leading a team!

To be clear, this isn't another team building game, but a storytelling exercise for training kaizen event leaders. I suppose it can be used for general leadership training, as well. The site's a little slim on details, so I pieced together how I think it works from the two documents I found.

The White Albatross exercise can be found on the government of Minnesota lean site. Currently the material is located here, but occasionally the site is updated and you may need to google to find it.

In order to teach people how to lead a team, each person is supposed to take turns facilitating the group as they complete a mini-project. The project is to answer questions about a story.

The story is a variation of the poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, about a scientist and a white albatross. This old sea superstition claims that killing a white albatross will bring bad luck. In the short story, the scientist kills an albatross and bad things happen.

According to the team facilitation slide presentation, you must first complete the questions individually, then stand up and facilitate. This means leading the group through the questions and answers. Since there are only 4 sets of questions (4 rounds), I assume only 4 people can be "trained" at a time. And once the questions are completed, you can't do them again, so this is for small groups only.

It's a simple story, followed by some simple true / false answers. Besides true or false, you can also answer that "the story does not contain sufficient information to respond true or false." And here is where it becomes a little interesting for the facilitator. True or false is easy, until the question becomes a little vague.

One statement says, "The sailors were not disturbed when the scientist violated the old sea superstition."

The story explains that the sailors protested, but the captain granted permission for the scientist to kill the albatross. Were the sailors "disturbed?" It doesn't really say, but their actions would lead you to believe so.

I'm sure we're all been in meetings where the focus has been on the wrong thing, or a side conversation has diverted the whole meeting off track. Some groups could talk for hours about semantics, but a good facilitator will shut down tangential discussion.

That's where this game will shine, by letting the facilitator practice sticking to the questions and key points. Especially in lean kaizen events, we want to focus on the facts and not waste time speculating on what we think something means.

The game also comes with a Powerpoint presentation to help you out with your training. Here's the slide that mentions the White Albatross exercise.

leader training game

In pop culture, the term "white albatross" refers to a curse, or psychological barrier to overcome. This theme is fitting, because many people find public speaking and facilitation very stressful. The only way to get over this barrier is to just do it. The white albatross game is an excellent way to practice.

I've added the White Albatross game to my list of lean games and simulations.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When should we stop improving? A video lesson from Formula 1

Performing a changeover is hard. Improving a changeover is even harder!

It's a huge accomplishment to reduce changeovers on an injection molding machine or stamping press from 2 hours to 1 hour. This 50% improvement will make a direct impact to the bottom line! But going from 1 hour to half an hour is harder. And what about the next 50% improvement to 15 minutes? All the low hanging fruit is gone and the impact isn't as noticeable.

The law of diminishing returns is a harsh mistress!

Shigeo Shingo coined the term SMED, or Single Minute Exchange of Dies. Changing a mold in one minute seems ludicrously unattainable for someone doing it in an hour, but Toyota changes dies in less than a minute, and so do many other manufacturers. And they keep trying to get even faster!

Toyota understands that changeovers are key to reducing inventories when using general purpose equipment. The more you can change, the less inventory you have to hold.

But, more importantly, Toyota understands that continuous improvement never stops! Goals that seem unbelievable to some are embraced by Toyota. These aren't just your average stretch goal. They choose sensible business goals that are backed by a solid plan. The plan may not be achieved in one day, but by focusing on true north, all activities are directed to the same goal.

Formula 1 pit stops are a frequent example to talk about when planning changeover reduction activities. Using team work, specialized equipment and preparation, crews have reduced Formula 1 pit stops to mere seconds.

The racing teams know that, in this sport with virtually no passing, the team with the fastest pit stop has a huge advantage! That's why they continue to strive for each second!

The video below shows the evolution of Formula 1 pit stops over the last 60 years. Not only is the video a good way to motivate SMED teams, but it's a great example for showing continuous improvement in general!

It's almost painful to watch them change tires in the 1950's!

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

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