Tag: Problem Solving

Desk Jockey “Leaders”

English: A desk in an office.
English: A desk in an office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Behind The Desk

For some people, being bound to a desk is an inherent and perhaps unfortunate part of the work they do. But, the last place I would expect to find a lean leader is sitting behind their desk.

I recognize the need for an office and understand that managing a business does require some desk time. However, it’s amazing how some “leaders” think that that’s what it takes to run a business. If you started and run your own business, you know otherwise.

To be in touch with your business is to spend time on the front lines, with your customers,  walking the floor, and simply being with your team – not just when you think they need you. Personally, I like to see and understand what is happening directly at the source. This is not to suggest that we interfere with the normal flow of operations or bypass the hierarchy of people who are running the operation. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn what is going on first hand so we can have a meaningful discussion to make improvements or to resolve any concerns as they arise.

The Desk Jockey

Desk Jockeys, on the other hand, rely on the steady stream of paper flowing through their office, looking for discrepancies or anomalies that don’t align with their expectations. Upon discovery, desk jockeys call the responsible person or persons to their office and proceed to explain the problem and offer solutions to them without really knowing what happened.

Desk Setup June 2009
Desk Setup June 2009 (Photo credit: Trevor Manternach)

If there isn’t enough paper already, desk jockey leaders have a niche for creating more. Attempts to justify their reasons for doing so further exposes their lack of knowledge on what it means to really manage and lead their teams.

We can’t assume the system is working simply because the paperwork is correctly completed. If the system is working, does that mean the physical process is working correctly too? Furthermore, could it be that the system itself is fundamentally flawed to begin with?

No Accident

Of course, desk jockey “leaders” didn’t get their titles by accident. They have a wealth of experience – at least that’s what they tell me – that brought them to their current level of success. It’s interesting to note that I hear this more from “first time” leaders who, sooner or later, learn why it may also be their “last time” leading.

A desk Jockey may also be a “know it all” or “know about”, leaving their teams to suffer and sweat through the issues so they can fend and “learn for themselves”. Almost as though rising to the challenge will make them stronger in the long run. I can picture the analogy well – the baby chick breaking out of its shell to discover the world because to help the chick is to make it weaker than those that did it for themselves.

It’s Just NOT Lean

Desk jockey “leaders” are not fully engaged with the reality that exists within their business. If you’re wondering why morale is low and your team is not engaged, it’s very likely that you’re not engaged with them. Strangely, desk jockeys share the same frustrations as their teams. They just don’t know it.

If you’re an expert, share your knowledge and skills. If you’re not, then you have all the more reason to get out from behind the desk and learn. Having the right answers isn’t going to solve all of your problems but asking the right questions will certainly help to bring you closer.

If our mission is “To deliver the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost in the shortest amount of time”, then writing reports for quality deficiencies, cost overruns, or missed deliveries is a strong indication that a problem exists – not behind the desk, but in the operation itself. Meetings and reports are best replaced by real hands on root cause analysis and problem solving that is only effective at the source.

Cell phones, tablets, laptops and other technologies make it possible to conduct business from wherever you are. Run your business from the place that matters most, not your desk. As for me, if I spend 10% of my time in the office, I’ve been there far too long.

Your feedback matters

If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or email us at LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics
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Learning From Mistakes

always make new mistakes
Always make new mistakes (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

An event occurred this afternoon that required an immediate resolution. When asked whether we were going to pursue the root cause, I could only respond with this question:

What’s the point of making mistakes if we’re not going to learn from them?

This is likely the shortest post I ever published here, however, I think the simplicity of the message makes the point very clear.

If you do wish to delve deeper into the topic of mistakes, I encourage you to read some of the related articles featured below.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Problem Solving: Take People Out To Keep Them In

Hindsight Bias
Hindsight Bias (Photo credit: mason bryant)

Hindsight

If only I knew then what I know now, things would be different and, as the expression goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”. The problem? Very few leaders and teams take advantage of “hindsight” to discover the valuable lessons that can be learned from both successes and failures.

Following an event, it is important to take the time to reflect and understand what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what can be improved – even if the event was a success. Of course, the implication here is that a plan exists.

To facilitate this process, I highly encourage using a tool that I have come to know as “After Action Reviews” or AAR‘s. One of the primary aspects of the review is to identify what did or didn’t work as opportunities to improve.

Problem Solving to Improve

The word “improve” implies that we are attempting to achieve something already envisioned to be better. When reviewing things gone right and things gone wrong”, it is best to phrase statements that are aligned accordingly. Even if someone did something in error, their intentions may have been in focus and aligned with the overall goal.

For example, if someone says something out of turn or makes a commitment beyond the scope of their immediate authority during a meeting with a customer or other colleagues, the after action review may suggest a better communication strategy: who is leading the meeting and who has the authority for making commitments.

The Blame Game

I recall a situation several years ago where a customer was having problems installing a part. After meeting with the customer we returned to the plant to investigate further – to find out how and why the part was not only shipped but produced in the first place.

My engineer returned with his findings that began with, “The operator didn’t check the parts properly.” I asked him to dig deeper to determine the real root cause and suggested using the 5 Why approach for problem solving. Typically, the root cause can be systemic, or process, or both.

We met with the operator and determined that the instructions for checking the part were unclear and the checking fixture was void of any means of inspection for the area of concern. Essentially, we determined that no one could adequately assess the quality of the part unless they were “in the know”.

Standard Operating Procedure

Cadets at BRNC participate in a team problem-s...
Cadets at BRNC participate in a team problem-solving exercise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The operator was very concerned about his job as people in years past were dismissed for producing “bad” parts. It was my intent to demonstrate that we are first concerned with providing the tools (system or process) that, if followed, would ensure a successful outcome.

It is important to note that this approach reinforces the need for – and the requirement to follow – standard operating procedures or standardized work. The operator in this case was assured that following instructions was not cause for discipline.

Our “best practice” standard operating procedure required everyone to phrase problems, mistakes, errors, or concerns in such a way that we simply state the undesirable condition or behavior.

I never accepted a corrective action where the problem statement, root cause, or investigation included the term: “Operator Error”. This does not mean that people can’t be held accountable for “things gone wrong.” However, it is more important to understand the aspects leading up to the failure, to dig deeper, and to find out why to avoid repeating mistakes by making improvements.

People Are The Solution

When people fear repercussions, their ability to participate in real problem solving is significantly hindered. Taking people out of the problem statement will keep them in the problem solving process to find an effective solution. It is important to note that people are accountable for their actions, however, our intentions are to identify and present improvements objectively.

As leaders, we are continually challenged to surround ourselves with the best. This includes efforts to improve our hiring and orientation process to ensure every candidate we bring into the organization has the aptitude and skills we require. Furthermore, we are challenged to provide our teams with the proper tools and training that ensure their greatest chance of success.

Opportunities and solutions are as unique as the talents, skills, and abilities that our team members bring to the table. This is one of the reasons we believe there is always a better way and more than one solution. We encourage the use of After Action Reviews (AAR’s) to seize every opportunity to be the best that we can be for our customers, our stakeholders, and for ourselves.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Toyota #1 for a Reason

Experience is often gained by making mistakes, however, we don’t have to repeat them for the sake of experience.  This is one of the reasons I decided to read “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy N. Ogden.  Aside from the many positive reviews this book has already received, it claims to present “The definitive inside account of Toyota’s greatest crisis – and lesson you can apply to your own company.”

Just as interesting though are two very strong statements or “subtitles” that appear on the front cover.  At first I thought these statements were quite bold considering that Toyota’s most troubling times are not that far behind us:

  1. Lessons For Turning Crisis Into Opportunity, and
  2. How Toyota Faced the Challenges of the Recall and the Recession to Come Out Stronger

I don’t think any company would savor the opportunity to experience the crises that Toyota has been subjected to over the past few years.  It is certainly easier and much cheaper to learn from the experiences and “mistakes” of others.  Each crisis that Toyota faced was compounded by the presence of new ones,  namely,

  1. Sudden Acceleration concerns and the recall of over 10 million vehicles,
  2. Enduring significant media and government scrutiny while being subject to the most intensive investigation in many years,
  3. Defamation of the Toyota brand and loss of consumer confidence in the company and it’s products, and
  4. An economic downturn that affected every manufacturer around the world.

These were certainly very difficult times and the lessons to be learned from them are sure to be of value to every business.  In the typical Toyota style, they once again have opened the doors to share their lessons learned – an opportunity that few companies dare to offer.

Endorsements

The statements supporting this book imply that successes have already been realized.  I, like you, would be more than a little concerned if these were Self-Proclaimed statements issued by Toyota’s leadership.  The good news is they aren’t.

An article published in the Toronto Star, “Toyota Bags 3rd Consecutive Reader’s Digest ‘Most Trusted Brand’ Award“, presents the best endorsement of all – it’s from us – the consumer.  The Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands program awarded Toyota ‘Most Trusted Passenger Car Brand” for the third year in a row and the 2011 Most Trusted Hybrid Brand.

Toyota is the number selling car brand in Canada and is recognized for having the most fuel-efficient car fleet and providing the greatest value to customers.  I was surprised to learn that 80% of Toyota’s sold in the past 20 years are still on the road.

Respect is Earned

As the expression goes, “Respect is Earned”.  I contend that the same is true for Trust.  Perhaps the realization that Toyota is as concerned about people, employees and customers alike, that the very culture that defines the company has extended to its customers as well.

As such, Toyota’s resilience and sustainability through these crises is further evidence of the unique and powerful culture upon which the company itself was founded.  I’m excited by the opportunity to learn more about this amazing company.  Toyota Under Fire will certainly prove to be a good read.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Waste: The Devil is in the Details …

A photo of a cup of coffee.
Image via Wikipedia

I planned to publish this yesterday but for some reason I felt compelled to wait. I doubt it was fate, but as you will see, Toyota once again managed to serendipitously substantiate my reason for it.

I was originally  inspired to write this post based on a recent experience I had at a local restaurant.

After I was seated, I ordered a coffee to start things off.  The waitress asked, “Would you like cream or milk with your coffee?”  I said, “Just cream please.”

A few minutes later my coffee arrived … accompanied by two creams and three milks. So I wonder, why even ask the question?  What part of this was routine? Asking the question or grabbing both milk and cream?

Later, when it was time for a refill, the waitress noted the milk containers neatly stacked beside the saucer and said, “Oh,  just cream right?”  They were quickly removed and replaced.

Habitual Waste

How many of us are simply going through the motions – say the right words and do the right things without even thinking?  In some cases, we may even do the wrong things, like a bad habit, without thinking – like the waitress in the restaurant.

I think we need to be very concerned when our words and actions are reduced to “habits” or the equivalent of meaningless rhetorical questions.  We say, “Hi, how are you?” and expect to hear “Fine” or “OK” – whether or not it’s true. Or worse, we don’t even wait for the answer.

When our daily routines become autonomous they essentially become habits – good or bad.  How can you pay attention to the details when they have become engrained into the everyday monotony we call routine?

The devil is in the details …

Of concern here is how much waste our habits generate that we’re not even aware of.  In business, finding the waste is actually easier than it looks.  The cure on the other hand may be a different story.

Layered process audits, and regular visits to the “front line” can be used to identify and highlight concerns but, as with many companies, these process reviews only represent a snapshot in time.  To be effective, they need to be frequent (daily) and thorough.

In manufacturing, process flows, value streams, and standard work are tools we use to define our target operating plan.  However, we know from experience that a gap typically exists between planned and actual performance.

The sequence of events typically occur as planned, however, the method of task execution varies from person to person and shift to shift.  The primary root cause for this variance can be traced to work instructions that do not definitively describe the detailed actions required to successfully complete the task.

Generic work instructions simply do not work. To be effective, our methods must be specific and detail oriented. General instructions leave too much room for error and in turn become a source of variation in our processes. 

Quite often, we develop techniques or “tricks” that make our jobs or tasks easier to perform.  Learning to recognize and share those “nuances” may be the discerning factors to achieve improved performance.

Worth Waiting For …

As I mentioned at the start of this article, Toyota somehow manages to make its way into my articles and this one is no exception.  Earlier this week, I learned that Ray Tanguay, a local Ontario (Canada) resident, is now one of three new senior managing officers for Toyota worldwide.

The Toronto Start published “Farm boy a Toyota go-to guy” in today’s business section that chronicles Ray Tanguay’s rise to power to become the only top non-Japanese executive in the company.

What caught my attention, aside from being born in a local town here in Ontario, was this quote:

“I like to drill down deep because the devil is always in the detailsRay Tanguay, Toyota Senior Managing Officer

The article also describes how Ray Tanguay managed to get the attention of Toyota president Akio Toyoda and the eventual development of a global vision to clearly set out the company’s purpose, long-term direction, and goals for employees.

After summarizing Ray Tanguay’s history, the article concludes …

 “A few years later, his attention to detail on the shop floor helped the company win a second assembly plant in nearby Woodstock and thousands of more jobs for Canada’s manufacturing sector.”

I note with great interest, “… on the shop floor …”  Perhaps, I should have changed the title to “Opportunity:  the Devil is in the details!”  I still think we were close.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Integrated Waste: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

shampoo
Image via Wikipedia

Admittedly, it has been a while since I checked a shampoo bottle for directions, however, I do recall a time in my life reading:  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  Curiously, they don’t say when or how many times the process needs to be repeated.

Perhaps someone can educate me as to why it is necessary to repeat the process at all – other than “daily”.  I also note that this is the only domestic “washing” process that requires repeating the exact same steps.  Hands, bodies, dishes, cars, laundry, floors, and even pets are typically washed only once per occasion.

The intent of this post is not to debate the effectiveness of shampoo or to determine whether this is just a marketing scheme to sell more product.  The point of the example is this:  simply following the process as defined is, in my opinion, inherently wasteful of product, water, and time – literally, money down the drain.

Some shampoo companies may have changed the final step in the process to “repeat as necessary” but that still presents a degree of uncertainty and assures that exceptions to the new standard process of “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat as Necessary” are likely to occur.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, new 2-in-1 and even 3-in-1 products are available on the market today that serve as the complete “shower solution” in one bottle.  As these are also my products of choice, I can advise that these products do not include directions for use.

Scratching the Surface

As lean practitioners, we need to position ourselves to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo.  This includes the manner in which processes and tasks are executed.  In other words, we not only need to assess what is happening, we also need to understand why and how.

One of the reasons I am concerned with process audits is that conformance to the prescribed systems, procedures, or “Standard Work” somehow suggests that operations are efficient and effective.  In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

To compound matters, in cases where non-conformances are identified, often times the team is too eager to fix (“patch”) the immediate process without considering the implications to the system as a whole.  I present an example of this in the next section.

The only hint of encouragement that satisfactory audits offer is this: “People will perform the tasks as directed by the standard work – whether it is correct or not.”  Of course this assumes that procedures were based on people performing the work as designed or intended as opposed to documenting existing habits and behaviors to assure conformance.

Examining current systems and procedures at the process level only serves to scratch the surface.  First hand process reviews are an absolute necessity to identify opportunities for improvement and must consider the system or process as a whole as you will see in the following example.

Manufacturing – Another Example

On one occasion, I was facilitating a preparatory “process walk” with the management team of a parts manufacturer.  As we visited each step of the process, we observed the team members while they worked and listened intently as they described what they do.

As we were nearing the end of the walk through, I noted that one of the last process steps was “Certification”, where parts are subject to 100% inspection and rework / repair as required.  After being certified, the parts were placed into a container marked “100% Certified” then sent to the warehouse – ready for shipping to the customer.

When I asked about the certification process, I was advised that:  “We’ve always had problems with these parts and, whenever the customer complained, we had to certify them all 100% … ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ … so we moved the inspection into the line to make sure everything was good before it went in the box.”

Sadly, when I asked how long they’ve been running like this, the answer was no different from the ones I’ve heard so many times before:  “Years”.  So, because of past customer problems and the failure to identify true root causes and implement permanent corrective actions to resolve the issues, this manufacturer decided to absorb the “waste” into the “normal” production process and make it an integral part of the “standard operating procedure.”

To be clear, just when you thought I picked any easy one, the real problem is not the certification process.  To the contrary, the real problem is in the “… ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ …” portion of the response.  Simply asking about the certification requirement was scratching the surface.  We need to …

Get Below the Surface

I have always said that the quality of a product is only as good as the process that makes it.  So, as expected, the process is usually where we find the real opportunities to improve.  From the manufacturing example above, we clearly had a bigger problem to contend with than simply “sorting and certifying” parts.  On a broader scale, the problems I personally faced were two-fold:

  1. The actual manufacturing processes with their inherent quality issues and,
  2. The Team’s seemingly firm stance that the processes couldn’t be improved.

After some discussion and more debate, we agreed to develop a process improvement strategy.  Working with the team, we created a detailed process flow and Value Stream Map of the current process.  We then developed a Value Stream Map of the Ideal State process.  Although we did identify other opportunities to improve, it is important to note that the ideal state did not include “certification”.

I worked with the team to facilitate a series of problem solving workshops where we identified and confirmed root causes, conducted experiments, performed statistical analyses, developed / verified solutions, implemented permanent corrective actions, completed detailed process reviews and conducted time studies.  Over the course of 6 months, progressive / incremental process improvements were made and ultimately the “certification” step was eliminated from the process.

We continued to review and improve other aspects of the process, supporting systems, and infrastructure as well including, but not limited to:  materials planning and logistics, purchasing, scheduling, inventory controls, part storage, preventive maintenance, redefined and refined process controls, all supported by documented work instructions as required.  We also evaluated key performance indicators.  Some were eliminated while new ones, such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness, were introduced.

Summary

Some of the tooling changes to achieve the planned / desired results were extensive.  One new tool was required while major and minor changes were required on others.  The real tangible cost savings were very significant and offset the investment / expense many times over.  In this case, we were fortunate that new jobs being launched at the plant could absorb the displaced labor resulting from the improvements made.

Every aspect of the process demonstrated improved performance and ultimately increased throughput.  The final proof of success was also reflected on the bottom line.  In time, other key performance indicators reflected major improvements as well, including quality (low single digit defective parts per million, significantly reduced scrap and rework), increased Overall Equipment Effectiveness (Availability, Performance, and Quality), increased inventory turns, improved delivery performance (100% on time – in full), reduced overtime,  and more importantly – improved morale.

Conclusion

I have managed many successful turnarounds in manufacturing over the course of my career and, although the problems we face are often unique, the challenge remains the same:  to continually improve throughput by eliminating non-value added waste.  Of course, none of this is possible without the support of senior management and full cooperation of the team.

While it is great to see plants that are clean and organized, be forewarned that looks can be deceiving.  What we perceive may be far from efficient or effective.  In the end, the proof of wisdom is in the result.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Lean – Burnout, Apathy, and Pareto’s Law

Example Pareto chart
Typical Application to Analyze Quality Defects

The Premise:  Pareto’s Law

The late Josheph Juran introduced the world to Pareto’s Law, aptly named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.  Many business and quality professionals alike are familiar with Pareto’s law and often refer to it as the 80 / 20 rule.  In simple terms, Pareto’s Law is based on the premise that 80% of the effects stem from 20% of the causes.

As an example, consider that Pareto’s Law is often used by quality staff to determine the cause(s) responsible for the highest number of defects as depicted in the chart to the right.  From this analysis, teams will focus their efforts on the top 1 or 2 causes and resolve to eliminate or substantially reduce their effect.

In this case, the chart suggests that highest number of defects are due to shrink followed by porosity.  At this point a problem solving strategy is established using one of the many available tools (8 Discipline Report, 5 Why, A3) to resolve the root cause and eliminate the defect.  Over time and continued focus, the result is a robust process that yields 100% quality, defect free, products.

In practice, this approach seems logical and has proven to be effective in many instances.  However, we need to be cognizant of a potential side effect that may be one of the reasons why new initiatives quickly wane to become “the program of the day.”

The Side Effects:  Burnout and Apathy

Winning the team’s confidence is often one of the greatest challenges for any improvement initiative.  A common strategy is to select a project where success can be reasonably assured.  If we apply Pareto’s Law to project selection, we are inclined to select a project that is either relatively easy to solve, offers the greatest savings, or both.

In keeping with the example presented in the graphic, resolving the “shrink” concern presents the greatest opportunity.  However, we can readily see that, once resolved, the next project presents a significantly lower return and the same is true for each subsequent project thereafter.

Clearly, as each problem is resolved, the return is diminished.  To compound matters, problems with lower rates of recurrence are often more difficult to solve and the monies required to resolve them cannot be justified due to the reduced return on investment.  In other words, we approach the point where the solution is as elusive as “the needle in a haystack” and, once found, it simply isn’t feasible to fund it.

The desire to resolve the concern is significantly reduced with each subsequent challenge as the return on investment in time and money diminishes while the team continues to expend more energy.  Over extended periods of time the continued pursuit of excellence leads to apathy and may even lead to burnout.  As alluded to earlier, adding to the frustration is the inability to achieve the same level of success offered by the preceding opportunities.

The Solution

One of the problems with the approach as presented here is the focus on resolving the concern or defect that is associated with the greatest cost savings.  To be clear, Pareto Analysis is a very effective tool to identify improvement opportunities and is not restricted to just quality defects.  A similar Pareto chart could be created just as easily to analyze process down time.

Perhaps the real problem is that we’re sending the wrong message:  Improvements must have an immediate and significant financial return.  In other words, team successes are typically recognized and rewarded in terms of absolute cost savings.  Not all improvements will have a measurable or immediate return on investment.  If a condition can be improved or a problem can be circumvented, employees should be empowered to take the required actions as required regardless of where they fall on the Pareto chart.

To assure sustainability, we need to focus on the improvement opportunities that are before us with a different definition of success, one with less emphasis on cost savings alone.  Is it possible to make improvements for improvements sake?  We need to take care of the “low hanging fruit” and that likely doesn’t require a Pareto analysis  to find it.

Finally, not all improvement strategies require a formal infrastructure to assure improvements occur.  In this regard, the ability to solve problems at the employee level is one of the defining characteristics that distinguishes companies like Toyota from others that are trying to be like them.  Toyota and the principles of lean are not reliant on tools alone to identify opportunities to improve.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics