Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Kanban Doesn't Apply Here" Managing Information Flow

A simple definition for lean is to reduce lead times through the elimination of waste. Inventory is waste, which led to the creation of JIT. Just In Time also known as Just Isn't There (when it's rushed in as a tool and not well thought out and implemented) came about to improve quality, reduce cost and improve cash flow.

One of the most widely publicised tools for implementing JIT is kanban.  Toyota uses simple kanban cards which circulate through the supply chain to trigger replenishment of parts to the line. When I worked on the sealer line, every time we would start using a new stack of sound dampening asphalt sheets, we'd pull the kanban card and drop it down a shoot. Then a little bit later, a waterspider (material handling person) would drop off parts and pick up the kanban cards for the next delivery run. These internal kanban cards would go back to the warehouse and trigger external kanbans that would order more parts from the suppliers. It's a beautiful system in it's simplicity. The little cards work better than any ERP system I've seen because the cards self correct and reflect reality with no additional keystrokes. If you get a bad batch of parts, the kanban gets pulled sooner and new parts are brought quickly based off reality, not a schedule (but that's a whole nother discussion).

When working with non-manufacturing groups, transparency is often a problem. You can't see the work, because it's information and it's in peoples heads. You can't see what's coming at you and how do you plan and adjust resources? Hmmm, how about a kanban system?

'No, you don't get it, that won't work here, our work is to complex and changes to often. Silly little cards are for manufacturing'

Okay, so tell me about what it is you do? In this case it was a group of engineers designing very expensive custom devices. These devices had hardware, software, electrical, mechanical, hydraulic and pneumatic systems. The group was broken up by system type.

Some groups worked a lot of overtime, some not so much and others, it depended. Resource utilization was a primary problem. Timeliness of information was another. There were a bunch of orders piled up, so when you finished with one, you grab the next, or your part of the next. Oh wait, here's another problem. Some groups were way ahead of others and the systems are not completely independant. As groups got caught up, they would find issues which resulted in rework for those that worked ahead, now they were behind.

What to do? It was a multifaceted problem with several dimensions. One of the first issues was to look at the complexity model for the devices. The devices fell into several product lines. Within those product lines there were about 5 distint layers of difficulty to design ranging from, we've done it before (plug and play) to never done that (and with that). I worked with the team to re-evaluate the model and came up with a simple and reliable model. Now they could look ahead and know what faced them in terms of work load and not just number of orders. 

As with most lean tools, it can be done in a simple way, the tough part is having the discipline to follow the process.  From a technical side, each team set up shared folders on their network.  One for work in process and completed projects.  When they were ready to start a new project, they would go to their supplier and pull the next project from their "Completed Projects" folder and move it to their "WIP- Work In Process" folder.  When they completed it, they would move it to their "Completed Project" folder and so on.

This process in and of itself is pretty simple and straight forward.  It provided a simple way to visually move work through the system with no complex software or added cost.  The novel part was that the team developed limits within their respective folders and an elaborate reaction plan.

It was not a work to keep working  as long as the suppliers Completed Projects folder had work.  They would work till their Completed Work folder hit it's limit.  At that point they would stop and check with their customer to see what the issue was and why they hadn't pulled anything as they were off takt.  If they could help them, they would.

If they couldn't help them, they would go back to their process and see if anyone else in their group needed help.  If not, they would then look at their special project lists and any outstanding kaizen items.  Finally, they had developed in skill and out of skill development plans.  One electrical engineer noted that a hydraulic system follows a lot of the same rules as an electrical circuit and started to train on how he could jump in to help as they often completed their designs before the mechanical engineers.

Over time the teams became much better balanced and understood each others functions which further helped them improve their own designs.  They also weren't getting way ahead and creating additional mistakes.  In addition to balancing workload, they improved their flow and reduced lead time and overtime.

The teams also played with various magnet boards and small dry erase cards that they put up to show visually where work was in the system and derive performance metrics around the system.  Over time, once the discipline was installed and they knew what they wanted, they could then start to look at ways to automate or get software to help.  But the last I heard from them, they were still using the simple folder and magnet board process.


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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Performing Phase

We're finally on to Performing!  But how do you know?  What's the sign?  In moving from one phase to the next, it's less of a binary switch and more of a gradual shifting over.  In the Norming phase the team is working well together but relying on you as to how and what they should be doing.  In the Performing phase the team is becoming self sufficient and self confident.  Again your role and approach will change.  You will now shift from being a teacher to a coach.  As a teacher you train others how to do things they don't know how to do.  As a coach, your team knows what to do.  Your role is to enhance the performance of what they know how to do.  You will provide the tips, tricks and words of wisdom to help them become more effective and efficient.

In this phase of the project, the team is at a point of conscious competence and there are several things going on to which you need be aware.  First, while the team, "gets it", they haven't developed the experience and muscle memory to handle all situations they may encounter.  You cannot let your guard down and need to watch the team and help them work through the one offs, every project has, that could get them discouraged and delayed.  While you may not be required to be fully active with the team during this time, you do need to be fully attentive and engaged.  This is often the time when you as the facilitator are getting really exhausted and it's easy to go sit in the corner and catch up on email and become quickly disengaged. 

There's a second effect going on during the transition from Norming to Performing.  This has to do with the cultural change you're driving and the team you need to help foster the growth.  Watch your team during the shift from Norming to Performing.  This is where you will start to see the combination of those who get it and will lead it.  It's sort of an unintentional interview process.  If one of these folks is on the team, they will assume your role and start leading the team.  If you're trying to grow a lean organization, this is where you can find new recruits.  This was how I was tapped at Toyota to become a Kaizen Circle Instructor.

One more phase, and I won't wait a year to write it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Norming Stage

You have successfully moved the team through the Forming and Storming  stages!  Getting through the Storming stage is critical but that doesn’t mean you’re done.  The first thing to remember is that just because you’ve made it through a stage, doesn’t mean you won’t slip back into one.  This is common, just like any relationship you will have good and bad times.
Understanding this will help you keep your focus and not ease up.  If you turn your back for a moment the team may slip back into Storming and you’re behind schedule.  Like the other phases you need to change your role again.  In the first stage you were and instructor or director if you will, then you became an instigator or maybe a hard coach is more appropriate.  Now you need to become a teacher.
The team is now in the Norming stage.  So what the heck does that mean?  In the Norming stage, the team is starting to gel.  They finally have their team dynamics worked out.  Everyone knows their part and place on the team, but not necessarily what to do.  This is where you come in.  The team is sort of in a state of limbo somewhere between unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence.  Either way, they need your guidance and they are willing to be taught.  You need to teach and guide the team through their project and help them to get their sea legs.  Give them some guidance but let them figure it out.  If you take over and do it for them you will slip back into the Director mode.  When you go into Director mode (from the Forming stage) you focus their attention on you and not towards each other.  If this happens, you can actually throw them back into the Storming stage.
It’s hard to say exactly how long the Norming stage will last and the transition into the Performing stage is sometimes subtle.  We’ll look at the Performing stage next.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Storming Stage

In the last post, I introduced the Tuckman Model for team dynamics.  I then discussed the first stage known as the Forming stage.  In that stage, you need to take on the role of an instructor where the teams attention is focused on you.  .  The team is now getting comfortable with each other so you now want to force them into the Storming stage.  The Storming stage is basically a pissing contest.  This is where everyone is vying for their position in the group.  The alpha dogs want to spar, the class clown, the cynic and the know it all start to take their positions.

At this point, people start to let their guard down.   This is good, you want this and you have to have this to get people fully engaged and reach a successful outcome.  However, you want to do this in a controlled fashion and do it quickly so that you can move on to the next stage.  If you don’t plan for and manage this stage of the dynamic, you may lose control and never get anything accomplished.  I’ve seen many a kaizen event fail due to the team getting stuck in the Storming stage.  So how do you effectively force a fight, but in a nice way?

First, you need to change roles.  During the training, your role was that of an instructor.  Now you need to become the instigator and mediator.  Instigator is a little harsh, but I’m trying to highlight the shift in role.  Although depending on the team and the situation, I’ve certainly played the part (but I’ll save that for another post). 

Second, it’s time to shift the team’s attention from you to each other.  During the Forming stage, they got to size each other up by watching how they interacted with you.  Now it’s time to interact with each other.  The simplest way to force the interaction is through a simulation.  A simulation will get the team interacting, talking and working together.  You need to use a simulation that requires some discussion and problem solving.  Guide the simulation to keep it moving, but during the discussion and problem solving, LEAVE THE ROOM!  Take a break and walk away.  If you stay in the room, they will come to you for safety.  If you walk away, they will be forced to interact with each other and establish their roles and positions in the group. 

You’ve forced them into the Storming phase, congratulations!  The important thing is that they are storming in a safe, controlled environment.  The last thing you want, is for your team to be storming while they’re discussing the problem they’re supposed to be solving.  There will be enough tension when you get to that point.  Now that you have the team storming, you need to pull them out of it.  Ahhh, the sweet taste of success is a powerful force.  This is where you need to make sure your simulation is very robust.  No matter what they come up with, they need to be successful.  If they can come out the other end successful, you will have solidified the team and prepared them to get some real work done and move on to the next stage.

Next up, the Norming stage.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grrrr, team dynamics

About six years ago I ran two kaizen events in different plants just a couple weeks apart.  They were almost identical events in terms of scope, process, department and team make up.  About the only difference was that one team was all new to kaizen events and the other were all seasoned participants.  After the events were over, I was left scratching my head.  One event went really well and one didn’t.

I put my six sigma hat on and did a reverse DOE analysis to isolate the variables and figure out the problem. 


After some investigation, I realized that it was the team dynamic that was so different.  There are always difficult personalities and situations to deal with, but this was different.  There wasn’t anyone on the team that was particularly tough and both teams knew each other and generally got along.  This really threw me for a loop and I’m not exactly an expert in soft skills so I started to do some research.


I started to study team dynamics, group effects, crowd behavior, collective behavior and anything else I could come up with.  There’s a ton of interesting information and theories out there and this is a great topic to blow an entire night till 3am chasing different threads.  Okay, so it was probably more like a week of nights.  I found some good information but I was looking for a simple explanation, a simple model that would not only explain what I experienced, but also help me plan for and prevent it from happening again.


I finally found what I was looking for, the Tuckman’s Model of Team Development or the Tuckman Stages of Team Development.  Bruce Tuckman, a Psychologist first presented his theory back in 1965.  In a nutshell, he proposes that there are 5 stages that a team will and must go through.  The stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. 


The teams will go through these stages in this order and they can drop back to earlier stages, normally storming at anytime and multiple times.  The challenge of leading a group is to get through the Forming and Storming stages as quickly as possible so that you can get to the Norming and Performing stages.


If you understand the stages, you can plan your agenda and approach around these and use them to your advantage to have more effective kaizen events and other engagements.


So let’s look at the stages and understand them better in terms of a kaizen event and agenda.  I’ll cover the first one now and the rest in subsequent posts.


Forming:  Think of this as the first day of middle school.  No one knows anyone and everything is new.  When a team first convenes, it’s all new and a little uncomfortable.  They’re not sure what’s okay to say or not, they don’t want to offend anyone, they don’t know what roles everyone’s going to play and how they fit it.  So typically, they will be reserved, quieter than usual and well behaved. 


As the facilitator, start with some training where you are leading the presentation.  This directs their attention and focus to you.  So instead of them versus the whole room (multiple channels), they only have to worry about relating to you, one person (single channel).  They will warm up quicker, you can build trust (which you might need later) and they can converse with you directly.  While each team member is dealing with you, it gives the other team members a chance to assess the situation.  People can start to figure out where they fit in and what role their going to play and what the group’s boundaries are.  By directing the attention towards you, you can get the team warmed up and “Formed” quickly.