Tag: Lean Integration

The High-Velocity Edge Is Here!

Update:  Steven J. Spear has been awarded the Philip Crosby Medal for his book “The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition” according to a Press release from ASQ—the world’s largest network of quality resources and experts (Milwaukee, WI March 2, 2011).

We have raved about the book “Chasing the Rabbit” written by Steven J. Spear and have just learned that the book has been re-released under a new a title, The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition.  Recognizing that your time is a valuable commodity, we aim to provide information that is relevant to our readers and visitors.  This book provides much more information on certain topics than one could ever hope to achieve through a website or blog – hence our recommendation.

This is perhaps an unprecedented marketing strategy for what was an already very successful book.  In one respect this reflects the wisdom of Peter Drucker who suggested that there is a time to abandon the old (even if it is considered an award winning success) in lieu of the fresh and new.  The following are excerpts from the e-mail we received from Steve that explain the reasons for this change:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The High Velocity Edge shows the particular skills and capabilities that lead to broad-based, high-speed, non-stop improvement and innovation.  Master these and you achieve exceptional, rival-beating performance, even if facing intense competition. If you don’t, you watch as someone else wins

The book (and the website supporting it) are replete with examples of how these capabilities are developed and deployed in high tech and heavy industry, in design and production, in services like health care and in manufacturing.

There is Pratt and Whitney’s compression in time and cost of jet engine design, the Navy’s creation of nuclear propulsion  with breath taking speed, Alcoa’s achieving near perfect workplace safety, and the exceptional improvement of care in medical institutions.

Toyota features prominently as an example, both in showing how  successfully cultivating the capabilities introduced and illustrated in The High Velocity Edgeare the source of  tremendous competitive strength and also in showing how the capacity to develop such capabilities can be overburdened.

With the release of The High Velocity Edge, I’m testing new media approaches, being released on its website, to bring the book’s ideas into broader practice more quickly than traditional means alone allow.

Here’s a closer look at what is new.

New Title and Cover: Why a  new name and cover after three awards, versions in four languages, and flattering reviews?  Well, people do judge a book by its cover, and those who didn’t read the reviews or learn of the awards were too often left  wondering what was inside.  Not so with the new.

New material:  You’ll find a new preface and epilogue, drawing lessons about leadership, innovation, and operational excellence from  Toyota’s recent  struggles.

New media: I’m testing ways to  help  people master more quickly and reliably the skills that allow individuals and organizations to achieve broad-based, high-speed improvement and innovation.

On the way are an interactive web-based case study, an ‘open school’ course for those in health care professions, and a series of short tutorials to help people review what they’ve read and to help them teach what they’ve learned to their own students and colleagues. The results will be introduced on the book’s website.

Of course, there will still be postings, applying the principles of leadership, innovation, and operational excellence to current topics.

I certainly hope you find the new look, content, and format useful in pursuing perfection.

Please share your feedback, and let’s talk about how I can help you put these ideas  to use in your own organization.

Thanks!

Steve Spear

A high velocity organization is, in our opinion, a step above and beyond the traditional lean principles that are typical of most text books and seminars on this topic.  The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition will prove to be a worthwhile read and we highly recommend this to any company seriously seeking to take their organization to the next level.  We have also added this book to our recommended reading list.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Business Analytics
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Flawless Execution – “This Is It” – Practice Makes Perfect

We are often encouraged to look beyond our own business models to expand our horizons or to simply gain a different perspective.  Music is one of my personal areas of interest in the outside world and I have learned to appreciate and value the many genres of music that exist today.  As a lead guitar player for a number of bands over the years and a little recording in my studio, I can only imagine the level of commitment required to perform and record professionally.

I was inspired to write this post after watching Michael Jackson’s DVD, “This is it“.  It is impressive to see how everyone is engaged and intimately involved with every nuance of the performance – from the performers themselves to the people working behind the scenes.  Even more amazing was Michael Jackson’s recall of every note and step of the choreography.  Michael provided extensive direction and leadership to assure a world-class performance could be delivered.

What does this have to do with Lean?

At its core, playing music can simply be described as playing the right notes at the right time.  In many respects, music is analogous to many of our manufacturing processes.  Music has a known process rate (beats per minute).  The standardized work or method is the music score that shows what notes to play and when to play them.  Similarly, the choreography serves as standardized work to document each and every step or movement for each performer.  It can be very obvious (and painful) when someone plays the wrong note, sounds a note at the wrong time, or mis-steps.

Knowing that “This is it” was produced from film during the development of the production also exemplifies how video can be used to not only capture the moment but to improve the process along the way.  The film provides the opportunity to review the performance objectively even if you happen to be in it.  You will note that people are much more engaged and become “self-aware” in a radically different way.

Communication + Practice makes Perfect

It is also readily apparent that many hours of rehearsal are required to produce a world-class performance.  Imagine working for days, weeks, months, or even years to produce a two-hour show for all of the world to see.  How much can one person do to refine and perfect the performance?  How much effort would you be willing to expend knowing that literally billions of people may someday be watching you!

As professionals, individual performers are expected to know their respective roles thoroughly.  They are paid for their expertise and ability to perform with high expectations and demanding circumstances.  The purpose of the rehearsal is not to necessarily practice your part as an individual, but rather to exercise your expertise as part of the team.  Each performer must learn their cues from other performers and determine how they relate and fit in to the overall production process.  Rehearsals provide the basis of the team’s communication strategy to assure everyone is on the same page all the time, every time.

Effective Training

Finally, “This is it” demonstrates the importance of training the whole team.  Although individual training may be required, eventually the team must be brought together in its entirety.  A downfall of many business training programs is that often only a select few people from various departments are permitted to attend with the expectation that they will bring what they learned “back to the team”.  One of the most overlooked elements of training is the communication and coordination of activities between team members.  Group breakout sessions attempt to improve interaction among team members, but this can’t replace the reality of working with the team on home turf.  It seems that some companies expect trained professionals to intuitively know how to communicate and interact with each other.  Nothing could be further from the truth if you are looking to develop a high performance team.

Last Words

Imagine what it would be like if we rehearsed our process and material changes with the same persistence and raw determination that performers and athletes in the entertainment and sports world exhibit.  Overall Equipment Efficiency and more specifically Availability may improve beyond our expectations.  Imagine applying the same degree of standardization to tasks that we perform everyday!  As we strive for excellence, our tolerance for anything less diminishes as well.

Flawless execution requires comprehensive planning, communication, training, practice, measurement, reflection, leadership, commitment, and dedication.

It’s time to play some riffs!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Lean Sensations – A taste of reality

We are all familiar with the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.  While it is easy to get caught up in data analysis and reports, this adage holds true for first hand experience as well.  It could even be said that some experiences are simply beyond description. – you have to see and “taste” it for yourself.  Words and pictures only provide a visual perspective and cannot capture the full ambiance of the moment.  Even video fails to provide a sense of the true atmosphere.  In the same sense, Lean leadership requires executives and staff at all levels to move beyond the reports and the pictures and experience things for themselves – first hand.

We are quite sure that the Olympic experience in Vancouver was radically different from the experience of watching the events on television.  Nothing can replace the actual experience of being there although technology continues to bring us closer.  Most of us can also identify with governments that do not seem to be “in touch” with our present-day reality.  As these analogies attempt to demonstrate, it is imperative for leaders and executives to directly observe and participate in the lean initiatives and activities throughout the organization.  It is equally important to maintain an active presence as part of the ongoing lean activities.

We recognize that it can be difficult to get even a small glimpse of reality especially when most executive visits are accommodated by the typical “dog and pony” show.  One successful executive was known for making unannounced visits to his facilities to get a true sense of the business – when the visits were unexpected.  This created a “Be ready any time – all the time” culture.  There was no time to prepare for “The big boss is coming today” and in reality, we shouldn’t have to.

Data gathering and analysis may actually sacrifice effectiveness for efficiency.  As an example, consider the concept of employee opinion surveys.  Employees are free to answer questions anonymously and without fear of repercussions or reprimand.  The purpose of the survey is to gather objective data from the employees regarding specific aspects of their work environment / company life.  The data is typically compiled, analyzed, and summarized into a neat power point presentation for all the employees to see “how well they did”.  The management team, in turn, is expected to prepare an action plan to address opportunities for improvement identified in the survey.

Does the report accurately reflect the real opportunities?  In many cases, the answer is, “No, not really”.  Does it provide evidence that opportunities may exist?  The answer in this case is, “Yes, highly probable.”  The report may indicate that opportunities exist, however, the source for improvement  may may be concealed by the how the question was framed.  Often times, questions are presented in such a way that a clear definitive response can’t be given.  While it is possible for people to include comments, few seldom do unless they know their concerns or opinions are truly valued by the company.

Do we really need surveys to get a pulse for what is happening inside the company?  In our opinion, the answer is, “No”.  An effective, highly engaged, management team should understand the culture of the company without having to rely on a survey to help them “manage” the facility.  People interact with each other daily.  Surveys are a snapshot in time and are usually conducted annually.  The other pitfall with surveys is the lead / lag time between the survey date and the actual presentation of the data.  In a fast paced industry, many things can change over a very short period of time.  The manufacturing sector and more specifically the North American automotive industry can attest to this.

Another reason for being “in the moment” is to fully experience that which can’t be described by words alone.  Anything other than “being there” requires us to use our creative imagination.  When someone has not been exposed to the very experience you are attempting to describe, you are forced to make reference to comparable items – yet they are not the same.  How many times have you heard, “It tastes like chicken!” as someone attempts to describe food that you haven’t tried before.  Just try to describe the taste, smell, or touch of something (heat / humidity / cold / frostbite / pain / g-Force) without making a reference to objects or things that are similar – yet different.

In summary, implementing and sustaining lean initiatives requires participation from all levels of the organization – not just to observe and review data, but to actually become an integral part of the activities.  Communication is an inextricable part of the lean culture as we have learned through our discussion regarding the Toyota recall.  We identified that Toyota’s infrastructure may have become an obstacle to effective communication in the company.

One way to keep the communication lines open is to remove the walls that separate executives and management from the front line.  The only way to do this effectively, is to be a “regular” on the front line.  You will earn the trust and respect of your team and they will communicate with you as they do with their fellow colleagues.

The culture of a company is one of the many strengths that must be supported and fostered by the executive leadership team.  Leadership participation is a prerequisite to successful lean integration.  Embrace the opportunities and seize the moment.

We can only imagine what it would be like to …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!


Lean Recalls – Compromising Safety?

Is there ever a time when risk outweighs the real fix?   As we are quickly learning from the latest news regarding Toyota’s proclaimed “savings” through limited safety recalls, the answer is “NO”.  The details of the story surrounding Toyota’s knowledge of the mounting safety concerns and the Toyota’s defense is very disturbing.  Toyota has responded by stating “Our first priority is the safety of our customers, and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong.”

Are Toyota’s actions aligned with this statement? According to the news we’ve been reading, the answer again is “NO”.  We would suggest that Toyota’s attempt to downplay “one” internal presentation is extremely weak.  Why?  Simply because that one internal document happened to be presented by Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s top North American executive, and as such the content becomes much more significant and relevant.  An executive presentation is expected to be factual and with purpose.  To suggest otherwise and relegate this to the category of ‘discussion topics” and one person’s opinion is a real stretch.  If this is indeed the case, then there are real concerns within the leadership ranks of Toyota.  When the president speaks, people listen for a reason.  What they say affects in some way – good or bad.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, and other executives are on the firing line as they present their case in the US congressional hearings.  In Akio Toyoda’s own words, “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization.”  As we have mentioned in previous posts, Toyota’s communication strategy has been lacking as this crisis continues to unfold.  We would suggest that this is indicative of the underlying problems that Toyota is experiencing.  Effective communication was once at the core of Toyota’s culture and to this end, we would agree that Toyota’s culture has been compromised.  What is debatable is whether this is strictly due to growth.  Is this a factor that is attributable to the sheer size of the company?  Is this the result of an evolution in culture that lost it’s roots?

As size increases, so do layers of management and the number of “gatekeepers” that attempt to filter out the critical information.  Whether or not the original message remains intact is one the faults of bureaucracy.  While Toyota traditionally has managed to “keep it real” and encouraged forward thinking and free dialogue, layers of management may have eroded this once highly characteristic trait of the Toyota culture.

Is Toyota solely to blame?  It appears that the government Safety Regulators have some explaining to do as well.  Surprisingly, the scope and extent of recalls can actually be negotiated.  The short lesson learned is that we cannot knowingly compromise human safety in our products and services.  In simpler terms, when human lives are at risk, there is no such thing as a LEAN Recall.

As we have emphasized through our many pages and posts, the culture is the company.  In our post, “Lean Execution:  Competing with Giants – It’s all about speed“, we featured two video clips of Domenic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, who discusses the rapid growth of his company.  “Thoughtful Speed of Execution” and learning to recognize Boulders, Rocks, and Pebbles, and teaching our gate keepers to do the same are two steps more than may have been taken already.

Related links:  Toyota vows shake-up, lawmakers seek more reform (Reuters), Toyota’s latest apology, Toyota apologizes for handling of safety issues,

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Lean, OEE, and How to beat the “Law of Diminishing Returns”

Are your lean initiatives falling prey to the Law of Diminishing Returns?  Waning returns may soon be followed by apathy as the “new” initiative gets old.  For those who have not studied economics or are not familiar with the term, it is defined by Wikepedia as follows:

The law states “that we will get less and less extra output when we add additional doses of an input while holding other inputs fixed. In other words, the marginal product of each unit of input will decline as the amount of that input increases holding all other inputs constant.

In simple terms, continued application of time and effort to improve a process will eventually yield reduced or smaller returns.  The low hanging fruit that once was easy to see and resolve has all but disappeared.  Some companies would claim that they have finally “arrived”.  We contend that these same companies have simply hit their first plateau.

Methods and Objectives

Is it inevitable that a process has been refined to the point where additional investment can no longer be justified financially?  The short answer is “Yes and No”.  As the Olympics are well under way, we are quick to observe the fractions of seconds that may be shaved from current world records.  If you’re going for Olympic Gold, you will need every advancement or enhancement that technology has to offer to gain the competitive edge.  These advances in technology are refinements for existing processes that are governed by strict rules.  Clearly, there are much faster ways to get from point A to point B.  However, the objective of the Olympics is to demonstrate how these feats can be accomplished through the physical skills and abilities of the athletes.

In business our objectives are defined differently.  We want to provide (and our customers expect) the highest quality products at the lowest cost delivered in the shortest amount of time.  How we do that is up to us.  Lean initiatives and tools such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can help us to refine current processes but are they enough to stimulate the development of new products and processes?  Or, are they limited to simply help us to recognize when optimum levels have been achieved?

Radical change versus refinement

Objectives are used to determine and align the methods that are used to achieve a successful outcome.  This is certainly the case in the automotive industry as environmental concerns and availability of non-renewable resources, specifically oil and gas, continue to gain global attention and focus.  The objectives of our “transportation” systems are being redefined almost dynamically as new technologies are beginning to emerge.  At some point, the automotive industry leaders must have realized that continuing to refine existing technologies simply will not satisfy future expectations.  With this realization it is now inevitable that a radical powertrain technology change is required.  Hybrid vehicles continue to evolve and electric cars are not too far behind.

How to Beat the Law of Diminishing Returns

Overcoming the law of diminishing returns requires another look at the vision, goals, and objectives of the company and to develop a new, different, or fresh perspective on what it is you are trying to achieve.  The lean initiatives introduced by Toyota, Walmart, Southwest and many others were driven by the need to find a competitive edge.  They recognized that they couldn’t simply be a “me too” company to gain the recognition and successes they now enjoy.

The question you may want to ask yourself and your team is, “If we started from scratch today, is this the result we would be looking for?”  The answer should be a unanimous and resounding “NO”.  Get out your whiteboard, pens, paper, and start writing down what you would be doing differently.  In other words, it’s time to re-energize the team and refocus your goals and objectives.  Vision and mission statements are not tombstones for the living.  5S these documents and take the time to re-invigorate your team.

Turning a company around may require some new radical changes and we need to be mindful of the new upstarts with the latest and greatest technology.  They may have an edge that we have may just haven’t taken the time to consider.  We are not suggesting that you need to replace all the equipment in your plant in order to compete.  Proven technologies have their place in industry and the competitive pricing isn’t always about speed.  The question you may need to consider is, “Can our technology be used to produce different products that have been traditionally manufactured using other methods?”

While many companies pursue a growth strategy based on their current product offerings and derivatives, we would strongly suggest that manufacturers consider a growth strategy based on their process technology offerings.  What else can we make with process or machine XYZ?  We anticipate that manufacturing sectors will soon start to blend as manufacturers pursue products beyond the scope of their current industry applications.

Be the Leader

Leading companies create and define the environment where their products and services will thrive.  Apple’s “iProducts” have redefined how electronics are used in everyday life.  As these tools are developed and evolve, so too can the systems and processes used throughout manufacturing.  The collective human mind is forever considering the possibilities of the next generation of products or services.

There was a time when manned space flight and walking on the moon were considered unlikely probabilities.  Today we find ourselves discovering and considering galaxies beyond our own and we don’t give it a second thought.  How far can we go and how do we get there?  The answer to that question is …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Quality is Priceless

The price tag for Toyota’s recent recall campaigns is estimated to be more than $2 Billion and the loss in share holder value is likely many times more than this.  Yet we remain optimistic and anticipate that Toyota will make it through this crisis.  We can only imagine what this kind of money could buy if wasn’t spent on repairing vehicles.

In our previous posts we differentiated between design and process failures.  Today we learned of yet another Toyota recall issued yesterday.  This time 8,000 0f the 2010 four-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks are being recalled for possible cracks in the front drive shaft.  In this case the supplier, Dana Corporation, discovered a problem with their manufacturing process that may also have affected parts supplied to Nissan and Ford as well.  Click here to read the full story.

We are reminded of the book titled “Quality is Free” written by the late Philip B. Crosby.  Many manufacturers around the world have learned that the cost of failure knows no bounds.  While it is possible to calculate the costs to repair defective products, the losses incurred due to lost sales, law suits, pending investigations, public relations, and reduced consumer confidence in general will never be known.

Because businesses are not charities, we can only expect that the price of future product offerings will include a portion of the company’s latest financial liabilities.  Naturally, if every product sold performed as expected or better and without flaw or incident, we could continue to focus on improving the quality of both products and processes.

It has been said that success breeds failure.  Success creates contentment, giving rise to complacency, and in turn results in lost focus.  So, what is the value of a process that yields perfect products?  In today’s global economy quality isn’t just a given – quality is priceless.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Lean Analytics and a little TRIZ

We are encouraged to see a significantly increasing interest in lean and agile strategy.  As we have emphasized in previous posts, the culture and work environment are as critical to the success of your initiatives as are the specific techniques, methods, and / or technologies that you will choose to use.  One of our favorite phrases to put our work environment into perspective  is, “What you see is how we think.”  We trust you will find the references in this post to be inspiring, thought provoking, and maybe even a little entertaining.

Analytics – In Perspective

The study of data can lead to some very interesting interpretations of the results.  We all have theories and with enough time and data we can prove them right or wrong.  Most statisticians, accountants, lawyers, and politicians can attest to this.  Data is typically studied and presented from a pre-conceived framework and variations are interpreted based on our chosen understanding of the model.

We have been researching cognitive dissonance and how this may affect the success of lean initiatives.  During our research, we found an article that describes how our thinking may actually influence or impede our ability to clearly see the problems or opportunities before us.  This article is self-explanatory and does not need much more by way of introduction.

Click here to view the Wired Magazine Article.

TRIZ:  We were recently asked to present a simple example that demonstrates the TRIZ concept.  While we agree that certain aspects of TRIZ can appear to be too complex to integrate into everyday problem solving, we found an excellent real world example that may surprise you.  This short video is only a few minutes long but speaks volumes.

Click here to view the video clip we found on TED.com.

The simplicity of this example makes it easy for everyone to understand at least one of the premises on which TRIZ is based.  Secondly, it serves as an excellent example to demonstrate how our perception and perspective can affect our ability to communicate new ideas and strategy to people who may not be familiar with our culture or environment.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

The Zeigarnik Effect and Lean

Have you heard of the Zeigarnik Effect?  If you have, you’re probably among the few of us that can appreciate how the Zeigarnik effect can affect our thinking processes.  What application could this possibly have with lean?    Consider that the human brain views an unanswered question the same as an incomplete task.  The brain must satisfy it’s innate desire to answer the question.  Lean is not a solution but rather a journey that continues to identify and stimulate ideas that lead to more unresolved opportunities.

The Zeigarnik effect is easier to demonstrate by way of example.  How many times have you been in a conversation while trying to recall someone’s name?  Failing to remember, you keep asking yourself, “What was that person’s name”?  Suddenly, after a few hours or even days later, the name comes to you out of nowhere.  The “Aha, that’s it” moment arrives.  Our subconscious mind continues to work on the problem, searching for a resolution, while we’re busy doing other things.

Is it possible to harness the power of the Zeigarnik effect in lean manufacturing?  Do we attempt to resolve a condition by settling with a less than desirable solution or settling for the one that just seems to work?  With respect to lean, there are many questions that beg to be answered:

  • How can we make this process faster?
  • How can we cut the cycle time?
  • How can we reduce the number of steps to make these parts?
  • Why do we carry all this inventory?
  • Where are we most vulnerable
  • How can we improve the quality of this product?
  • What can we do to eliminate waste?
  • What would happen if …?
  • Why do we do this or that…?

We all understand the power of questions.  The news media and marketing experts are constantly confronting us with questions that need to be answered.  In the case of news media, they entice us to read the story or stay tuned.  In the case of marketing and advertising, they present their product or service solutions.  As lean practitioners, we are continually asking questions.

The evolution of lean thrives by asking the right questions.  Many of the lean tools in use today have been around for many years.  Even in organizations where lean is not a core focus, people are passively aware that lean exists.  They may also have acquired an unrealistic definition of what lean really is.  For companies that have yet to integrate lean practices, this preconceived notion of what lean is may actually hinder your efforts.  The team may be disengaged at the onset of any initiative because they think they know it already.

The prescription for maintaining momentum in your lean journey is simple:  Ask more questions than you hope to ever have answers for.  Engage your team by asking questions.  Although simply asking “Why?” can generate a lot of activity, we should be very specific with our questions.  Keep asking questions until the answers stop flowing.

As students in school, we expected the teachers to know the answers to the questions they were asking.  In a lean organization, even the teachers are students.  Are we asking the right questions?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

A brief article that discusses the Zeigarnik Effect can be found at the following link  http://businessmindhacks.com/post/zeigarnik-effect-in-depth.

Lean Breaking Through Paralysis

Welcome to 2010!  We wish all of our visitors the very best of success in 2010.  Now that 2009 is behind is really behind us, we can start looking forward to the opportunities and challenges ahead in 2010.

Page Updates:

As regular users of Excel we are always looking for excellent and trustworthy resources to help us in our day to day operations.  We just added two new links to our Excel Web Sites page that present high quality, user friendly, content.  We encourage you to visit these links to learn more about Excel.  If your interests include VBA, you will find that our selected links serve as an excellent forum to serve your needs.

Lean – Breaking Through Paralysis

Significant initiatives, including lean, can reach a level of stagnation that eventually cause the project to either lose focus or disappear altogether.  Hundreds of books have already been written that reinforce the concept that the company culture will ultimately determine the success or failure of any initiative.  A sustainable culture of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and continual improvement requires effective leadership to cultivate and develop an environment that supports these attributes.

When launching any new initiative, we tend to focus on the many positive aspects that will result.  Failure is seldom placed on the list of possible outputs for a new initiative.  We are all quite familiar with the typical Pro’s and Con’s, advantages versus disadvantages, and other comparative analysis techniques such as SWAT > Strengths, Weakness, Alternatives, Threats)

A well defined initiative should address both the benefits of implementation AND the risks to the operation if it is NOT.

Back on Track

The Vision statement is one starting point to re-energize the team.  Of course, this assumes that the team actually understands and truly embraces the vision.

Overcoming Road Blocks

The Charter:  Challenge the team to create and sign up to a charter that clearly defines the scope and expectations of the project.  The team should have clearly defined goals followed by an effective implementation / integration plan.  The charter should not only describe the “Achievements” but also the consequences of failure.  Be clear with the expectations:  Annual Savings of $xxx,xxx by Eliminating “Task A – B – C”, Reducing Inventory by “xx” days, and by  reducing lead times by “xx” days. 

Defining Consequences:  Competitive pricing compromised and will lead to loss of business.  This could be rephrased using the model expression:  We must do “THIS” or else “THIS”.  It has been said that the pain of change must be less than the pain of remaining the same.  If not, the program will surely fail.

The Plan:  An effective implementation strategy requires a time line that includes reporting gates, key milestones, and the actual events or activities required.  The time line should be such that momentum is sustained.  If progress suggests that the program is ahead of schedule, revise timings for subsequent events where possible.  Extended “voids” or lags in event timing can reduce momentum and cause the team to disengage.

Focus:  Often times, we are presented with multiple options to achieve the desired results.  An effective decision making process is required to reduce choices or to create a hybrid solution that encompasses several options.  The decision process must result in a single final solution.

Consequences:  As mentioned earlier, a list of consequences should become part of the Charter process as well.  Failure suggests that a desired expectation will not be realized.  It is not enough to simply return to “the way it was”.  The indirect implication is that every failure becomes a learning experience for the next attempt.  In other words, we learn from our failures and stay committed to the course of the charter.

Example:

Almost all software programs are challenged to sort data.  We don’t really think about the “method” that is used.  We just wait for the program to do it’s task and wait for the results to appear.  At some time, the software development team must have chosen a certain method, also known as an algorithm, to sort the data. 

We were recently challenged in a similar situation to decide which sort method would be best suited for the application.  You may be surprised to learn that there are many different sorting algorithms available such as:

  1. Bubble Sort
  2. Quick Sort
  3. Heap Sort
  4. Comb Sort
  5. Insertion Sort
  6. Merge Sort
  7. Shaker Sort
  8. Flash Sort
  9. Postman Sort
  10. Radix Sort
  11. Shell Sort

This is certainly quite a selection and more methods are certain to exist.  Each method has it’s advantages and disadvantages.  Some sorting methods require more computer memory, some are stable, others are not.  Our goal was to create a sorted list without duplicates.  We considered adding elements and maintaining a sorted “duplicate free” list in real-time.  We also considered reading all the data first and sorting the data after the fact.

The point is that of the many available options, one solution will eventually be adopted by the team.  Using the “wrong” sorting method could result in extremely slow performance and frustrated users.  In this case the users of the system may abandon a solution that they themselves are not a part of creating.  While a buble sort may produce the intended result, it is usually not the most efficient.

Another aspect of effective development is to document the analysis process that was used to arrive at the final solution.  In our example, we could run comparative timing and computer resource requirements to determine which solution is most suitable to the application.  Some algorithms work better on “nearly sorted” lists versus others that work better with “randomly ordered” data.

Engage the Team:  The team should be represented by multiple disciplines or departments within the organization.  Using the simple example from above, the development team may create a working solution that is later abandoned by the ultimate users of the system due to it’s poor performance.  The charter should be very clear on the desired expectations and performance criteria of the final solution.

Creating a model or prototype to represent the solution is common place.  This minimizes the time and resources expended before arriving at the final  solution for implemention.

Vision:  Leadership must continue to focus beyond the current steps.  A project or program is not the means to an end.  Rather it should be viewed as the foundation for the next step of the journey.  Lean, like any other initiative, is an evolutionary process.  Lean is not defined by a series of prescriptions and formulas.  The pursuit and elimination of waste is a mission that can be achieved in many different ways.

Management / Review

Regular management reviews should be part of the overall strategy to monitor progress and more so to determine whether there are any impediments to a successful outcome.  The role of leadership is to provide direction to eliminate or resolve the road blocks and to keep the team on track.

Breaking Through Paralysis

The objective is clear – we need to keep the initiative moving and also learn to identify when and why the initiative may have stopped.  Running a business is more than just having good intentions.  We must be prudent in our execution to efficiently and effectively achieve the desired results.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

22 Seconds to Burn – Excel VBA Teaches Lean Execution

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Background:

VBA for Excel has once again provided the opportunity to demonstrate some basic lean tenets.  The methods used to produce the required product or solution can yield significant savings in time and ultimately money.  The current practice is not necessarily the best practice in your industry.  In manufacturing, trivial or minute differences in methods deployed become more apparent during mass production or as volume and demand increases.  The same is true for software solutions and both are subject to continual improvement and the relentless pursuit to eliminate waste.

Using Excel to demonstrate certain aspects of Lean is ideal.  Numbers are the raw materials and formulas represent the processes or methods to produce the final solution (or product).  Secondly, most businesses are using Excel to manage many of their daily tasks.  Any extended learning can only help users to better understand the Excel environment.

The Model:

We recently created a perpetual Holiday calendar for one of our applications and needed an algorithm or procedure to calculate the date for Easter Sunday and Good Friday.  We adopted an algorithm found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computus that produces the correct date for Easter Sunday.

In our search for the Easter Algorithm, we found another algorithm that uses a different method of calculation and provides the correct results too.  Pleased to have two working solutions, we initially did not spend too much time thinking about the differences between them.  If both routines produce the same results then we should choose the one with the faster execution time.  We performed a simple time study to determine the most efficient formula.  For a single calculation, or iteration, the time differences are virtually negligible; however, when subjected to 5,000,000 iterations the time differences were significant.

This number of cycles may seem grossly overstated, however, when we consider how many automobiles and components are produced each year then 5,000,000 approaches only a fraction of the total volume.  Taken further, Excel performs thousands of calculations a day and perhaps even as many more times this rate as numbers or data are entered on a spreadsheet.  When we consider the number “calculations” performed at any given moment, the number quickly grows beyond comprehension.

Testing:

As a relatively new student to John Walkenbach’s book, “Excel 2003 Power Programming with VBA“, speed of execution, efficiency, and “Declaring your Variables” have entered into our world of Lean.  We originally created two (2) routines called EasterDay and EasterDate.  We then created a simple procedure to run each function through 5,000,000 cycles.  Again, this may sound like a lot of iterations but computers work at remarkable speeds and we wanted enough resolution to discern any time differences between the routines.

The difference in the time required to execute 5,000,000 cycles by each of the routines was surprising.  We recorded the test times (measured in seconds) for three separate studies as follows:

  • Original EasterDay:  31.34,  32.69,  30.94
  • Original EasterDate:  22.17,  22.28,  22.25

The differences between the two methods ranged from 9.17 seconds to 8.69 seconds.  Expressed in different terms, the duration of the EasterDay routine is 1.39 to 1.46 times longer than EasterDate.  Clearly the original EasterDate function has the better execution speed.  What we perceive as virtually identical systems or processes at low volumes can yield significant differences that are often only revealed or discovered by increased volume or the passage of time.

In the Canadian automotive industry there are at least 5 major OEM manufacturers (Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, and Chrysler), each producing millions of vehicles a year.  All appear to produce similar products and perform similar tasks; however, the performance ratios for each of these companies are starkly different.  We recognize Toyota as the high velocity, lean, front running company.  We contend that Toyota’s success is partly driven by the inherent attention to detail of processes and product lines at all levels of the company.

Improvements

We decided to revisit the Easter Day calculations or procedures to see what could be done to improve the execution speed.  We created a new procedure called “EasterSunday” using the original EasterDay procedure as our base line.  Note that the original Wikipedia code was only slightly modified to work in VBA for Excel.  To adapt the original Wikipedia procedure to Excel, we replaced the FLOOR function with the INT function in VBA.  Otherwise, the procedure is presented without further revision.

To create the final EasterSunday procedure, we made two revisions to the original code without changing the algorithm structure or the essence of the formulas themselves.  The changes resulted in significant performance improvements as summarized as follows:

  1. For integer division, we replaced the INT (n / d) statements with a less commonly used (or known) “\” integer division operator.  In other words, we used “n \ d” in place of “INT( n / d)” wherever an integer result is required.  This change alone resulted in a gain of 11 seconds.  One word of caution if you plan to use the “\” division operator:  The “n” and “d”  are converted to integers before doing the division.
  2. We declared each of the variables used in the subsequent formulas and gained yet another remarkable 11 seconds.  Although John Walkenbach and certainly many other authors stress declaring variables, it is surprising to see very few published VBA procedures that actually put this to practice.

Results:

The results of our Time Tests appear in the table below.  Note that we ran several timed iterations for each change knowing that some variations in process time can occur.

EasterDay = 31.34375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 20.828125 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.28125 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 30.9375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 20.921875 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.25 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 30.90625 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 21.265625 1.  Replaced INT ( n / d) with (n \ d)
EasterDate = 22.25 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 31.078125 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 9.171875 2.  Variables DECLARED!
EasterDate = 22.1875 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method
Re-Test to Confirm Timing
EasterDay = 31.109375 Original Code uses INT( n / d ) to convert Division Results
EasterSunday = 9.171875 2.  Variables DECLARED!
EasterDate = 22.171875 Original Code – Alternate Calculation Method

The EasterSunday procedure contains the changes described above.  We achieved a total savings of approximately 22 seconds.  The integer division methods used both yield the same result, however, one is clearly faster than the other.

The gains made by declaring variables were just as significant.  In VBA, undeclared variables default to a “variant” type.  Although variant types are more flexible by definition, performance diminishes significantly. We saved at least an additional 11 seconds simply by declaring variables.  Variable declarations are to VBA as policies are to your company, they define the “size and scope” of the working environment.  Undefined policies or vague specifications create ambiguity and generate waste.

Lessons Learned:

In manufacturing, a 70% improvement is significant; worthy of awards, accolades, and public recognition.  The lessons learned from this example are eight-fold:

  1. For manufacturing, do not assume the current working process is the “best practice”.  There is always room for improvement.  Make time to understand and learn from your existing processes.  Look for solutions outside of your current business or industry.
  2. Benchmarking a current practice against another existing practice is just the incentive required to make changes.  Why is one method better than another?  What can we do to improve?
  3. Policy statements can influence the work environment and execution of procedures or methods.  Ambiguity and lack of clarity create waste by expending resources that are not required.
  4. Improvements to an existing process are possible with results that out perform the nearest known competitor.  We anticipated at least being able to have the two routines run at the similar speeds.  We did not anticipate the final EasterSunday routine to run more than 50% faster than our simulated competitive benchmark (EasterDate).
  5. The greatest opportunities are found where you least expect them.  Learning to see problems is one of the greatest challenges that most companies face.  The example presented in this simple analogy completely shatters the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  6. Current practices are not necessarily best practices and best practices can always be improved.  Focusing on the weaknesses of your current systems or processes can result in a significant competitive edge.
  7. Accelerated modeling can highlight opportunities for improvement that would otherwise not be revealed until full high volume production occurs.  Many companies are already using process simulation software to emulate accelerated production to identify opportunities for improvement.
  8. The most important lesson of all is this:

Speed of Execution is Important >> Thoughtful Speed of Execution is CRITICAL.

We wish you all the best of this holiday season!

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Vergence Analytics

At the onset of the Holiday project, the task seemed relatively simple until we discovered that the rules for Easter Sunday did not follow the simple rules that applied to other holidays throughout the year.  As a result we learned more about history, astronomy, and the tracking of time than we ever would have thought possible.

We also learned that Excel’s spreadsheet MOD formula is subject to precision errors and the VBA version of MOD can yield a different result than the spreadsheet version.

We also rediscovered Excel’s Leap Year bug (29-Feb-1900).   1900 was not a leap year.  The leap year bug resides in the spreadsheet version of the date functions.  The VBA date function recognizes that 29-Feb-1900 is not a valid date.