Tag: Six Sigma

Lean: Beyond Reach!

Lean game production line
Image by Kerry Buckley via Flickr

Almost everything I read or learned suggests that lean was never intended to be complicated. The simplest definition of lean I have read to date follows:

Focus on what matters and eliminate what doesn’t

This is not to suggest that lean is easy. In actual practice I find that some companies have sufficiently compounded the definition of lean to exclude all but a select team of employees.

I contend that lean is an all inclusive initiative based on the simple premise that we can always find a better way.

As suggested by our definition of lean above, the ability to discern what matters from what doesn’t is the most fundamental step to any lean initiative.

As I discussed in “Discover Toyota’s Best Practice“, improvements are seldom the result of a single action or countermeasure. Rather, in the context of lean, innovations are the culmination of numerous improvement initiatives over time.

I become increasingly concerned where a lean culture is compromised by infrastructure, policies, systems, and procedures that inherently frustrate improvement initiatives.

This reflects one of my qualms with six sigma where an implied hierarchy is created by virtue of the “belt” or level that a person has achieved. The approach is intentionally “exclusive” by virtue of education, experience, and / or proven expertise. As such, people are inherently disqualified from the process.

Quite simply, don’t create an environment that alienates your team to the extent that lean is beyond reach by design.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics
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What are we Changing?

N(0,1) normal distribution curve, mean and sta...
Image via Wikipedia

Our process improvement strategy is founded on the Theory of Constraints where improvement initiatives are supported by lean and six sigma tools.  Process disruptions affecting flow and task execution all contribute to variance and the efforts to eliminate or reduce them are evidenced by increased stability, increased throughput over time, and increased profits.

So, our main goal in production is to improve flow by focusing our efforts to reduce and eliminate variation in our processes.  This is also the message behind our previous two posts, OEE in an Imperfect World and Variation:  OEE’s Silent Partner.  The effects of our actions will be reflected by the metrics we have chosen to measure our performance.

The following videos further the cause for the Theory of Constraints and Improving Flow:

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3RPFUh3ePQ

The following video discusses “What to Change?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prrA-onO0Nc&NR=1

Stories can be the best teachers and when the topic is manufacturing, production, or operations, I highly recommend “The Goal”, an industry standard, and the recently released “Velocity“.  Both novels present an all too common manufacturing dilemma – resource capacity and scheduling constraints – to teach the Theory of Constraints.  Velocity is a continuation of The Goal and expands the discussion to include Lean and Six Sigma.

For additional resources and reading recommendations, visit our Book Page.

The message is simple:  Change drives Change.  What are your thoughts?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

Achieve Sustainability Through Integration

Innovation
Image via Wikipedia

It’s no secret that lean is much more than a set of tools and best practices designed to eliminate waste and reduce variance in our operations.  I contend that lean is defined by a culture that embraces the principles on which lean is founded.  An engaged lean culture is evidenced by the continuing development and integration of improved systems, methods, technologies, best practices, and better practices.  When the principles of lean are clearly understood, the strategy and creative solutions that are deployed become a signature trait of the company itself.

Unfortunately, to offset the effects of the recession, many lean initiatives have either diminished or disappeared as companies downsized and restructured to reduce costs.  People who once entered data, prepared reports, or updated charts could no longer be supported and their positions were eliminated.  Eventually, other initiatives also lost momentum as further staffing cuts were made.  In my opinion, companies that adopted this approach simply attempted to implement lean by surrounding existing systems with lean tools.

Some companies have simply returned to a “back to basics” strategy that embraces the most fundamental principles of lean.  Is it enough to be driven by a mission, a few metrics, and simple policy statements or slogans such as “Zero Downtime”, “Zero Defects”, and “Eliminate Waste?”  How do we measure our ability to safely produce a quality part at rate, delivered on time and in full, at the lowest possible cost?  Regardless of what we measure internally, our stakeholders are only concerned with two simple metrics – Profit and Return on Investment.  The cold hard fact is that banks and investors really don’t care what tools you use to get the job done.  From their perspective the best thing you can do is make them money!  I agree that we are in business to make money.

What does it mean to be lean?  I ask this question on the premise that, in many cases, sustainability appears to be dependent on the resources that are available to support lean versus those who are actually running the process itself.  As such, “sustainability” is becoming a much greater concern today than perhaps most of us are likely willing to admit.  I have always encouraged companies to implement systems where events, data, and key metrics are managed in real-time at the source such that the data, events, and metrics form an integral part of the whole process.

Processing data for weekly or monthly reports may be necessary, however, they are only meaningful if they are an extension of ongoing efforts at shop floor / process level itself.  To do otherwise is simply pretending to be lean.  It is imperative that data being recorded, the metrics being measured, and the corrective actions are meaningful, effective, and influence our actions and behaviors.

To illustrate the difference between Culture and Tools consider this final thought:  A carpenter is still a carpenter with or without hammer and nails.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

Business Novels: The Next Best Thing To Reality

I enjoy reading business novels and fondly remember my first read of “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt.  I also had the pleasure of reading another book titled “Velocity:  Combining Lean, Six Sigma, and the Theory of Constraints to Achieve Breakthrough Performance – A Business Novel” by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland, and Jeff Cox.  This book is a natural extension of “The Goal” and offers a very realistic perspective of what it takes to turn a company around.

Rife with the typical political rhetoric that accompanies any change process, you will find a truly intriguing story that discusses how to overcome these challenges and what it can mean to set aside personal agendas and theories for the greater good of the company.  Velocity also demonstrates how prescriptive strategies can become an impediment to finding new solutions to solve the problem at hand.

Business novels provide a unique self-paced learning opportunity by teaching new concepts that otherwise may be difficult to explain or appreciate in a formal classroom setting.  The story line helps to deepen our understanding and expectations of the concepts all the while improving  our ability to retain the information.

Velocity is a great read and, like The Goal, should be mandatory reading for every one involved in manufacturing.

Enjoy and thank you for your continued support!

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Vergence Analytics

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!