Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where's the Focus on Lead Time?

I've been thinking a lot about Lead Time lately.  I was doing some research for a customer and going through a lot of materials on the current efforts within the lean environment.  Then something hit me.  There is a lot of focus on different projects and activities.  But for what gain?  What's the goal to be achieved?  This wasn't clear or even discussed.  It started to feel like there was a lot of 'activities for activities sake' going on.

Some of the companies I work with have very nice and elaborate Lean Six Sigma annual assessment and ranking programs.  These help to establish a consistent roadmap across the corporation and give a good way to measure a facility.  However, my question to them then is, how often and what is the process to question the assessment?  What's the feedback mechanism that tells you when there's no value in an activity other than to check the box on the assessment?

Process is bureaucracy, the challenge is to find the balance in just enough that it adds value overall but not so much that it constrains the system.  It was at this point that I went back to my operational definition of Lean.

Lean is a cultural methodology that focuses on efficiently delivering value to the customer by reducing lead times through the elimination of waste.

Most lean practitioners of lean have a similar definition.  However, most people I talk to do not know what their lead time is, measure it or know what their lead time is worth.  I recently had a customer that put one of their interns on a project to assess the cost of their waiting on material to be delivered.  In a backdoor manner, they had to figure out what an hour of production was worth.  We had a discussion about Lead Time and Production Time to discuss the differences.  The intern really got it, he did some further analysis and built the model out some more to highlight the impact that the downtime has on their operations.

Calculating the value of a unit of Lead Time can get real complex real fast depending on what you include and why.  It also tends to have a lot of soft dollars rolled into it that makes it tougher to correlate the impact of reducing it straight to the bottom line.  I think this is why it gets a lot of talk but not as much action.  I think I'll have to work on a model for calculating lead time and its value.  I'd like to have it start simple with concrete numbers and then add in some of the soft numbers.  If anyone has any models they'd like to share, please email them to me.

All of the companies that have successfully implemented Lean that I can think of, have the common denominator of explicitly focusing on and understanding their lead time.  I'd like to see a revolution take place that focuses on lead time.  Lean can be used as a strategic tool.  I'll share how in an upcoming post.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Adjourning Phase or Police Time, Right?

Ahhh, the big sigh of relief!  You've survived another kaizen event.  You just had your Friday afternoon report out to the powers that be, maybe over a box lunch.  The team came up with a catchy name.  You shared the new process, the lessons learned, the team building that occurred and the all important kaizen newspaper and next steps.  You hurriedly clean up the hundreds of post it notes in hopes of getting out on time, which feels like a half day at the end of an event. Then off for the weekend.

This often feels like the end, but it's really the beginning.  The beginning of the cultural change if you really what to improve the overall business.  I've led kaizen events in a lot of different industries and departments within these industries.  Shop floor events tend to have shorter kaizen newspapers than an Engineering R&D event in the high tech industry spread across three continents.  So there are always different amounts of action items to follow up on.  The question again is, what's your role and how can you be most effective?

You have transitioned yourself from Director to Instigator to Teacher to Coach.  What's left?  One of the most common roles I've seen post kaizen is the Cop.  We've all done it.  We've got the kaizen newspaper in one hand and the baton in the other point out what hasn't been done and trying to beat the team into submission for not doing something they agreed to do while hyped up on the kaizen high.  While this approach may yield results in the short term, I contend that it's not effective in the long term.  Eventually, you will find it more and more difficult to get people to sign up for any extracurricular activities.

The team doesn't need a cop, they need a Cheerleader.  The kaizen event is the inflection point or the intervention for change.  The change must now be sustained in order for it to become the new norm.  Without encouragement and discipline, it won't stick and you'll be back in six months doing it all over again.  There are lots of one offs, what ifs and standard practices that drove the old behavior.  These distractions and the nay sayers make it very easy to slip back to the old ways.  This is where you need to continue to work with the team and remind them why they made the decisions they made and what the goal is.

Be sure to highlight when accomplishments are achieved and milestones are completed.  While the teams need to do most of it for themselves, remember they have gone back to their day jobs with all of its workloads.  You may need to jump in and help out a bit.  Help the team to program manage some of the tasks.  You should not own the list, that's the teams responsibility.  However, you can help coordinate the activities and do some leg work.

Kaizen events are fun and exciting.  They highlight the need for change and move mountains in a short period of time.  However, they signal the start of the change and your role as the Cop or the Cheerleader can make or break the success of the whole Lean Transformation.