Tag: Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Lean Leadership: The Missing Link?

The TOYOTA wayI coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization.  In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish.  Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.

So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves.  These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way:  14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.

So where do we turn?

Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world.  This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.

I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.

A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere.  Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.

In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis.  As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”

As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.

Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed.  Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.

Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly.  “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.

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Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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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

Critical Process Triggers

Critical Triggers

It is inevitable that failures will occur and it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with their effects.  Our concern regards our ability to anticipate and respond to failures when they occur.  How soon is too soon to respond to a change or shift in the process?  Do we shut down the process at the very instant a defect is discovered?  How do we know what conditions warrant an immediate response?

The quality of a product is directly dependent on the manufacturing process used to produce it and, as we know all too well, tooling, equipment, and machines are subject to wear, tear, and infinitely variable operating parameters.  As a result, it is imperative to understand those process parameters and conditions that must be monitored and to develop effective responses or corrective actions to mitigate any negative direct or indirect effects.

Statistical process control techniques have been used by many companies to monitor and manage product quality for years.  Average-Range and Individual-Moving Range charts, to name a few, have been used to identify trends that are indicative of process changes.  When certain control limits or conditions are exceeded, production is stopped and appropriate corrective actions are taken to resolve the concern.  Typically the corrective actions are recorded directly on the control chart.

Process parameters and product characteristics may be closely correlated, however, few companies make the transition to solely relying on process parameters alone.  One reason for this is the lack of available data, more specifically at launch, to establish effective operating ranges for process parameters.  While techniques such as Design of Experiments can be used, the limited data set rarely provides an adequate sample size for conclusive or definitive parameter ranges to be determined for long-term use.

Learning In Real-Time

It is always in our best interest to use the limited data that is available to establish a measurement baseline.  The absence of extensive history does not exempt us from making “calculated” adjustments to our process parameters.  The objective of measuring and monitoring our processes  and product characteristics is to learn how our processes are behaving in real-time.  In too many cases, however, operating ranges have not evolved with the product development cycle.

Although we may not have established the full operating range, any changes outside of historically observed settings should be cause for review and possibly cause for concern.  Again, the objective is to learn from any changes or deviations that are not within the scope of the current operating condition.

Trigger Events

A trigger event occurs whenever a condition exceeds established process parameters or operating conditions.  This includes failure to follow prescribed or standardized work instructions.  Failing to understand why the “new” condition developed, is needed, or must be accepted jeopardizes process integrity and the opportunity for learning may be lost.

Our ability to detect or sense “abnormal” process conditions is critical to maintain effective process controls.  A disciplined approach is required to ensure that any deviations from normal operating conditions are thoroughly reviewed and understood with applicable levels of accountability.

An immediate response is required whenever a Trigger Event occurs to facilitate the greatest opportunity for learning.  “Cold Case” investigations based on speculation tend to align facts with a given theory rather than determining a theory based solely on the facts themselves.

Recurring variances or previously observed deviations within the normal process may be cause for further investigation and review.  As mentioned in previous posts, “Variance – OEE’s Silent Partner” and “OEE in an Imperfect World“, one of our objectives is to reduce or eliminate variance in our processes.

Interactions and Coupling

When we consider the definition of normal operating conditions, we must be cognizant of possible interactions.  Two conditions observed during separate events may actually create chaos if the events actually occurred at the same time.  I have observed multiple equipment failures where we subsequently learned that two machines on the same electrical grid cycled at the exact same time.  One machine continued to cycle without incident while a catastrophic failure occurred on the other.

Although the chance of cycling the machines at the exact same moment was slim and deemed not to be a concern, reality proved otherwise.  Note that monitoring each machine separately showed no signs of abnormal operation or excessive power spikes.  One of the machines (a welder) was moved to a different location in the plant operating on a separate power grid.  No failures were observed following the separation.

Another situation occurred where multiple machines were attached to a common hydraulic system.  Under normal circumstances up to 70% of the machines were operating at any given time.  On some occasions it was noted that an increase in quality defects occurred with a corresponding decrease in throughput although no changes were made to the machines.  In retrospect, the team learned that almost all of the machines (90%) were running.  Later investigation showed that the hydraulic system could not maintain a consistent system pressure when all machines were in operation.  To overcome this condition, boosters were added to each of the hydraulic drops to stabilize the local pressure at the machine.

To summarize our findings here, we need to make sure we understand the system as a whole as well as the isolated machine specific parameters.  Any potential interactions or affects of process coupling must be considered in the overall analysis.

Reporting

I recommend using a simple reporting system to gather the facts and relevant data.  The objective is to gain sufficient data to allow for an effective review and assessment of the trigger condition and to better understand why it occurred.

It is important to note that a trigger event does not automatically imply that product is non-conforming.  It is very possible, especially during new product launches, that the full range of operating parameters has not yet been realized.  As such, we simply want to ensure that we are not changing parameters arbitrarily without exercising due diligence to ensure that all effects of the change are understood.

Toyota Update

After a 10 month investigation into the cause of “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, the results of the Federal Investigation were finally released on February 8, 2011, stating that no electronic source was found to cause the problem.  According to a statement released by Toyota,  “Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i) and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review.”

The findings do,however, implicate some form of mechanical failure and do not necessarily rule out driver error.  It is foreseeable that a mechanical failure could be cause for concern and was seriously considered as part of Toyota’s initial investigation and findings that also included a concern with floor mats.  While the problem is very real, the root cause may still remain to be a mystery and although the timeline for this problem has extended for more than a year, it demonstrates the importance of gathering as much vital evidence as possible as events are unfolding.

A Follow Up to Sustainability

When a product has reached maximum market penetration it becomes vulnerable.  According to USA Today, “Activision announced it was cancelling a 2011 release of its massive music series Guitar Hero and breaking up the franchise’s business unit citing profitability as a concern.”

I find it hard to imagine all of the Guitar Hero games now becoming obsolete and eventual trash.  The life span of the product has exceeded the company’s ability to support it.  This is a sad state of affairs.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics