Archives for March 2008

Hesitate and Die

u571.jpgOne of my favorite movies is U-571 starring Matthew McConaughey.  In the movie, a German submarine is boarded by disguised American submariners seeking to capture its Enigma cipher machine.

Now in Charge

Once the seasoned skipper dies, McConaughey is forced to assume control.  He is young, inexperienced, and scared as their submarine is under severe attack. 

Water is spraying everywhere and the young sailors are frozen with fear.  All they can do is look to their new skipper and ask, “What do we do now, sir?”

McConaughey pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts and then responds, “I don’t know.” 

The seasoned maintenance chief is watching these events unfold.  After seeing the defeat in McConaughey’s eyes and hearing his reply to the young sailors, he pulls him to the side.

You Always Know What to Do

He explains, in a rather forceful manner, that McConaughey is now in charge and that these young kids are depending on him.  He is the skipper, and as the skipper he has to know what to do.  Not knowing isn’t an option, especially in the heat of battle.

After this pep talk McConaughey gathers himself and leads the young sailors through to victory.

Morale of the Story

If you are a leader of people, and let’s face it, most of us are in some way (at work, home, school, church, etc.) I believe there is simple lesson to be learned from this scene.

When the going gets tough, someone must step up and assume control with a focused confidence.  Why shouldn’t it be you?

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Dealing with Doubting Thomas

Doubting ThomasToday, Roman Catholics around the world read about Doubting Thomas.

No matter what your personal belief system is, I think there is much to learn from this story, especially for those of us attempting to drive change in our organizations.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Since Thomas did not see the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes, he just couldn’t bring himself to believe that He had in fact rose from the dead (even though his friends told him this was the case).

Beating my head against a wall

When I hear these verses, I am reminded of the times I have attempted to get people to try new ways of working only to face massive opposition (e.g. that won’t work here… we’re different… you just don’t understand).

The most frustrating part is, like the “other disciples,” I have seen the things I am promoting work with my own eyes!

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Go to Gemba

In many cases, in order to get people to believe in what we are saying (e.g. one piece flow is best, 5S is critical, variation is the enemy, etc.) we must show them.

We could make a half goofy video, shoot a statapult in a green belt course, or make paper airplanes. Or we can bypass the games and head straight for the gemba, or the place the work is done, and just do it.

However, no matter how much evidence we provide, the only way a true and lasting transformation will occur is when these doubting Thomases develop a blind faith and trust in what we are preaching.

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed

Let’s face it, in the end we cannot show the skeptics of world everything. Eventually, they must begin to believe in what we are saying.

The good news is, once this new found faith takes root (and it will if we persevere), great and powerful change will result.

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10 Benefits of One Piece Flow

There are at least ten reasons one piece flow won’t work. But, I prefer to look at things positively. You know, the glass is half full. With this said, here are 10 benefits of implementing one piece flow.

Benefit 1: Improves safety. Research shows that overexertion is one of the main sources of injury in the workplace. When we transition to one piece flow we limit the need to lift heavy pallets and containers of material.

Also, one piece flow often reduces the number of forklifts moving about. Did you know there are around 90 deaths and 90,000 forklift related accidents each year in the USA alone?

Benefit 2: Builds in Quality. When we “make one, move one” defects are detected immediately (usually the next work station) forcing immediate corrective action.

In contrast, when batches of material are produced piles of scrap may result when a defect is detected downstream. Why?  The entire batch may have the same defect.

During my time with Motorola I vividly remember the day when hundreds of cell phones were scrapped. Since the circuit boards were produced in batches (very typical in the surface mount technology world I might add) they were not tested until the end of the assembly line.

Eventually, once they were tested, we learned a wrong component had been placed on each and every board. Only one component… no problem right? Just re-work them.  Wrong. That one tiny component (.04 ” x .02″ in size) was placed on each circuit board around 50 times. Ouch.

Benefit 3: Improves Flexibility. One piece flow is faster than batch and queue. This speediness factor allows us to wait longer to schedule the order (and still deliver on time).

Subsequently, we are better able to respond to last minutes changes from the customer.  And everyone knows, no matter what industry you work in, customers love to change their mind.

Benefit 4: Improves scalability. With one piece flow, equipment can be designed smaller and at lower cost since the need to produce huge batches of material at breakneck speed is no longer required. 

Benefit 5: Reduces inventory. With one piece flow, work in process (WIP) is reduced in dramatic fashion. This frees us cash as we don’t have to move, store, and manage piles of inventory.  And make no mistake, if you are in a for profit business, cash is king.

Benefit 6: Improves productivity. Many of the wastes so inherent with batch and queue production (e.g. motion, transportation, waiting) are greatly reduced with one piece flow. As a result, productivity increases. 

Don’t believe me?  Try one piece flow and compare your units produced (and sold of course) per employee before and after implementing one piece flow. 

Benefit 7: Simplifies material replenishment. One piece flow paced at takt time allows for material delivery to be done by timed milk runs or set quantity deliveries. This predictability makes the water spider’s job far easier to perform.

Benefit 8: Frees up floor space. As already discussed, one piece flow reduces the amount of WIP stored on the floor.

Additionally, in order for one piece flow to function, work stations must be connected and not isolated on their own island.

All this frees up valuable floor space which allows the company to grow their business without additional brick and mortar.

Benefit 9: Makes kaizen take root. One piece flow is hard since the buffers and buffers of inventory are gone. We cannot hide behind them anymore. Further, quality must constantly improve, machine reliability must increase, changeovers must be shortened, etc. In short, kaizen must take root.

Benefit 10: Improves morale. Employees want to do good work. They want to see progress. They want be involved. Implementing one piece flow brings all these things, and more, together.

And when this metanoia occurs, the organization is transformed into a fun and dynamic workplace where innovation and problem solving rule the day.

Can you think of other benefits of one piece flow I may have missed?  If so, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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What is Progress?

I was reading some quotes of G.K. Chesterton tonight and came across this one.

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.” – Orthodoxy, 1908

G.K. Chesterton

Rather than attempting to write an article to complement the words of this literary giant, I humbly request you quiet your mind and read the quote a few more times… pondering what it means for you personally and professionally.

The words are simple, but the message profound.

A Response to the Video Skeptics

It’s safe to say the kinds words, comments, and emails for my one piece flow video have far exceeded my expectations. 

While most of the comments and feedback have been extremely positive there have been a few skeptics in the crowd.  For the record, I love skeptics!  Why?  They push me to be better and to think.  And thinking is good. 

Well, as of this evening, my new friend Eric H., of the GrimReader blog, has laid down a mind blowingly excellent analysis of my every move in the video.  Eric, as they say, has some serious eagle eyes!

Hi Ron;

Seems there are skeptics about. So I, hard-headed person that I am, watched the entire video again with a spreadsheet (similar data posted to my better half’s website).

How do we account for the ~60 second difference in the two processes? (Which I contend is the wrong comparison, more below).

Average time to fold:
Batch: 9 s
Lean: 8 s

Average time to stuff:
Batch: 4 s
Lean: 3 s

Average time to seal:
Batch: 2 s
Lean: 1 s

Average time to stuff:
Batch: 1 s
Lean: 1 s

So, over 10 repetitions, the lean method got a total of 10+10+10=30 seconds of advantage from the shorter time to fold, stuff, and seal.

Could the shorter fold time be due to thinner paper used the second time? Or to the fact that you seem to get better as you go (you start with times of 9-10 s, but end with times of 7-8 s). The shorter stuff and seal times, though, are due to the fact that you are already holding the item from the previous step. You gain 1 second each time from not having to find and pick it up. That’s part of the point, so I contend that it’s unfair to count those against you as if they were a parlor trick of some sort.

Still need to account for 30 seconds, though.

You lose between 2 and 5 seconds every time you move the pile around between steps. Also, you have to manage the pile several times during a task, something you don’t have to do nearly as much with OPF. This also has a factory corollary: storing, moving, retrieving, and looking for WIP.

But those are the wrong numbers to compare. The real advantage, though, is the fact that you are knocking out a complete product roughly every 15 seconds with OPF. Every 15 seconds, the lean manufacturer fills another order. Every 15 seconds, he has the opportunity to inspect WIP and final product for defects.

Heck, let’s even spot the batch production method the 3 second difference (most of which is legitimate gain) so that they both average 18 seconds. The lean producer would be still be fulfilling another order every 18 seconds. The Batch producer doesn’t get any orders filled until 3:47. What if they were hours rather than seconds? With 40 hours in a week, that means that the lean producer is shipping twice a week while the batcher is shipping every 6 weeks. Do you like the idea of cash flowing in twice a week, or every 6 weeks?

For the sake of the skeptics, next time you do something like this, make sure you do the lean method first so that your task times improve more for the batch method. Heck, handicap yourself for the lean method; use one hand and your teeth or something. 18 seconds beats 3:47 like a rented mule.

Update: The Fashion-Incubator blog readers have also chimed in with some passionate feedback.  Check it out.

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LSS Academy Series Review – Six Sigma Edition

First of all, Happy Easter!  My family and I were in Oklahoma the last few days.  As is very typical with me during road trips, I began to think about this blog.  I am not sure if this is entirely healthy (me always thinking about this blog) but I guess that’s a story for another day.

Ahhh, Quiet Time

In any event, this quiet time (yes, the kids were sleeping) allowed me to reminisce on what we have discussed over the past year or so on the blog. 

I quickly came to the realization that I have written quite a few “series” related to various lean and six sigma topics.  So, to save you the time of digging through the archives I thought I would share a few of these with you this evening.

Let’s start with six sigma related series tonight… and then later this week we will dive into lean.  So you guessed it, this will be a 2 part series where we talk about series.  Cool, eh?

Descriptive Statistics

In August of last year I wrote a series on descriptive statistics.  Don’t lie… makes you want to yawn, right?  Thanks to all the crappy stats professors out there this topic definitely has a bad reputation. 

Well, with this known, I attempted to gain it some much needed street cred back.  In part 1 we started off talking about the 3 measures of central tendency.  Then, in part 2 we got all crazy and dove into the 3 measures of dispersion

 Control Charts

If you think of yourself as a “lean guy” or “lean gal” you may wonder what benefit (if any) this six sigma stuff can be to you. 

Well, while control charts are not a six sigma only tool… they are heavily stressed during a six sigma practitioners development.  With this said, if you are into lean and not using control charts you are missing out on one very powerful tool. 

In part 1 of this series, we started slowly as we discussed the history of control charts.  Then, in part 2 we talked about the controls charts used with attribute data – namely the p, c, and u charts.  Finally, in part 3 we learned about my personal favorite, the Individual and Moving Range control chart.

Fun with Confidence Intervals

When people mention the words confidence intervals I cannot lie…  I get excited.  But, alas, I realize I am a little weird.  So in order to make this topic a bit more digestable for normal people… I wrote a 2 part series. 

In part 1 we dipped our foot in the water and explained the difference between population and sample statistics.  Then, in part 2 we got into things far more deeply. 

Simple Linear Regression

One of the first series I attempted focused in on the very popular topic of regression.  This is another topic those mean college profs did their best to make us hate.  Well… hate no more friends. 

In part 1, of this 3 part series we learned about some of the basics of regression.  Then, in part 2 we talked about two very cool concepts – R Sq (adj) and P values.  Finally, in part 3 we talked about residuals and the ultra important differences between correlation, causation, and extrapolationIf you click on only only one link in this article.. click this last one.

Hangin’ with Taguchi

While not a traditional series, the articles I wrote on Taguchi methods have been quite popular as determined by their number of page views.  So I thought I would conclude with these.

My first Taguchi related article touched on the famous Taguchi Loss Function (in addition to why so many folks seem to hate Mr. Taguchi’s guts).  Next, we discussed one of my favorite process capability measures, the Taguchi Index – Cpm.  Finally, I later shared some insight into my favorite design of experiment – the Taguchi L18 DOE.

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Next up we I will share some of the lean related series from the past year.  But the links above should keep you plenty busy until then.

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Spring Fever – Fact or Fiction?

“It’s spring fever…. You don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

-Mark Twain

Texas Sun

Today marks the beginning of spring. Here in Texas, the sun is shining longer each day, vibrant green grass is beginning to appear, and the birds are starting to be more and more active. It’s a wonderful time indeed. Spring fever, as they say, is in the air.

Fact of Fiction?

Researchers have long held the belief that spring fever is actually scientific fact.

One popular theory states that the increasing intensity and duration of sunshine is first measured by our brains. This information is then transferred to the pineal gland in the base of the cerebrum which subsequently triggers the reduction of melatonin (chemical that makes us sleepy).

And the result? Why spring fever of course!

Finland in the Summer

I used to work for Nokia, and as such I traveled to Finland numerous times.

Let me just say, Helsinki in July is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There are flowers everywhere, people are out roller blading and jogging, and everyone’s spirit seems to be soaring.

Finland in Winter

Contrast this with Finland in December. Sunlight rarely shines, it is very cold, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to growing a little depressed during these trips. If it weren’t for the wonderful saunas (and no, I never jumped in the ice cold lake after) I may not have survived.

Exploiting Spring Fever

So you see, I am of the opinion that spring fever is real. I find my mind soaring with ideas about my work, family, and future. I am also busy creating plans for how I want to exploit these ideas.

So, if you feel yourself coming down with this same spring fever, I welcome you to let your mind loose.

As it relates to lean and six sigma, perhaps you might allow spring fever to power you forward with the value stream mapping exercise you have been thinking about.

Or maybe you feel it’s time to ask your boss about that black belt training you have long wanted to take.

Whatever it is, I welcome you to go after it. It’s time to release the winter blues and welcome the newness of spring time back into your life.

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Respect for People: Japanese Style

During my recent travels through Japan I was paying close attention to the words and actions of the Japanese leaders we met.

One of my trip goals was to gain a better understanding of how the Japanese practiced the concept of “respect for people” we hear so much about in the lean world. Let me summarize some of the things I learned.

Don’t Disturb Harmony

escalator.jpgAs we learned on day 1 of our visit, Japan is the land of big harmony. The Japanese seem to enjoy a sense of flow in all they do.

Take an escalator for example. When Japanese people ride on an escalator everyone, and I do mean everyone, seems to know that the right side of the path is to remain clear so people in a hurry can pass on by.

Being the unknowing American in the crowd I made the mistake of messing with this harmony a few times (by standing on the right side with my big old back pack). And let me just say, my error was brought to my attention immediately by those around me. Were they rude about it? No. But they were definitely, let’s say, blunt.

As it relates to the factories we visited… I sensed a similar thing. If an employee (or American visitor) is disturbing harmony in any way they will be made aware of it immediately.

The Cold Shoulder

If an employee continues to disturb the harmony, even after being made aware of it, the next step may very well be the cold shoulder.

It didn’t seem like “firing the problem employee” was a popular method of dealing with issues like this in Japan. Instead, this problem employee would more likely be ignored and given the cold shoulder as we would say in America.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, and what’s so bad about that?” Apparently, in Japan, this is very bad.

In fact, we heard a story of one man who was not invited to meetings and was essentially left alone after he was identified as a harmony disruptor. This man felt so bad about the situation that he actually fell into depression.

Practice What They Preach

While the cold shoulder method did seem a bit disrespectful to me I will say it was more than countered by how willing these leaders were to walk the talk.

At HOKS, for example, the managing director single handedly launched their “3S” program. How did he do this? By arriving 30 minutes early to work to clean the parking lot and any other area that needed it. He explained that the only way he could ever expect his employees to buy into this new way of thinking and working was to first do it himself.

Again and again, we saw managers and leaders practicing genchi genbutsu. In other words, they went to the floor to see what was happening. Actually, they didn’t “go” to the floor… they were almost always “on” the floor in the midst of the action.


So, while there were glimpses of things that seemed a bit harsh, they were dwarfed by all the positive examples of respecting people I witnessed.  Following the excellent advice of our guide, Brad, it’s these positive aspects I am burning into my long term memory.

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How you can help a child in need

My friend, and fellow blogger, Mark Graban of the Lean Blog is asking us to help a child in need.  Specifically, he has a launched a virtual toy drive for children staying in a hospital.

I don’t ask much of my blog readers — but if you’re looking for an opportunity to make a donation, please consider your local children’s hospital. You can either buy new DVD’s or new toys of all sorts. Different hospitals list their own policies on new versus used and the types of items they recommend donating (for example, stuffed toys are often not preferred because of cleanliness issues).

We spend a lot of time talking about respecting people in the lean world.  This is a perfect opportunity to practice what we preach. 

Here is a link to the full article where Mark shares some ideas for how you can help.  Please consider doing so. 

Toyota: 97% Efficient

Sitting on an airplane for 12 hours and dealing with a 14 hour time difference will definitely take it out of a person.  But after a day of rest (if playing and chasing my 3 kids can be called rest) I am beginning to feel a little more like myself.

I still have lots of notes to review and haven’t even touched my voice recorder which has hours of information on it.  Once this process begins I will be sure to share more things with you.  But for now, I want to talk about Toyota a little more. 

Toyota Production Control Boards

During our visit through the Toyota Kyushi plant we saw numerous electronic production control boards.  These boards are in position for all the workers and supervisors to see.

In addition to andon lights showing the status of what is running and not running, there are four numbers displayed on the board. 

The first (top left side) is the daily production goal.  The second (middle left) displayed how many cars they should have produced up that particular point in time. The third (bottom left) displayed how many cars had actually been produced.  The fourth and final number (bottom right) was simply the ratio between actual to plan.  This fourth number was a percentage.

97% Efficiency Goal

During our visit the percentage for actual to plan was 98% on one particular line, if I remember correctly.  Our Toyota tour guide was quick to explain that their goal is actually 97%.  I found this odd.  I mean this is Toyota.  They are the best.  Why then do they not aim for 100%?  Someone asked her this question.

She smiled, as if to say she has been asked this before, and explained line stops are actually welcomed rather than discouraged since stopping the line means they are catching problems before they escape to the next process. 

So, you see, Toyota never wants to set a goal of 100% as that would then penalyze the workers for doing the very thing they want them to do – stop the line when there is a problem.

Contrast to GM

I have never been in a GM plant and cannot really vouche for what I am about to say.  But, during our group discussion after the Toyota visit, it was mentioned by someone that they were once told by a GM supervisor that their goal was to eliminate line stops.  If the line stops, the GM supervisor explained, cars are not being made.  Perhaps people more familiar with GM can comment if this sounds factual in the comments section below.

Obviously, if this is true, there is a totally different mentality between the Toyota way and the GM way.  I will leave up to you which company you want to model yourself after. 

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