We've all seen the battery life on our phones drain as the hours pass by in our days. Eventually that annoying red bar shows up and the thought passes, I need to charge my phone. But of course with emails to answer and tasks to complete, eventually it becomes the last task on the priority list. Inevitably you begin dipping into reserves: turning off applications, dimming the screen and logging out of important screens until finally your phone is no longer capable of accomplishing much of anything anymore. In a scramble, you begin looking for a charger: asking friends, plugging in for a quick charge and turning off and on until finally the phones just turns off.
This analogy is a lot like many lean transformations. We deploy visions, missions and strategic initiatives all while accumulating a wealth of tools. Eventually along with all these deployments and collections the thought begins to approach that as a business you must still generate revenue, meet demands and answer informative questions. Over the weeks, months and years the statements, missions and tools begin to be less and less present until one day the thought approaches, "I need to re-charge my strategy." Actually you're probably not alone in receiving that revelation it can happened in both successful initiatives and in failing initiatives. So how do we put that same spirit back into the re-start, re-charge or renewal that we did in deployment?
Here are a few key actions that are critical steps in recharging your transformation.
1. Asses the sincerity of your deployment - Sometimes asking ourselves with sincerity can be a hard process. It's important to ask why we first began a strategic journey. It probably goes without saying but if the desires were not sincere motives, the journey may have never really started. In this case your restart may begin by identifying the actual needs of your organization and acknowledging the current culture and historical behaviors that contribute to the established culture. A few projects here and there and using capital to ramp up production will not always be the answer. Remember that our three key drivers are people, processes and technology and we must be sincere in improving all three of those elements. For instance involving all levels of the organization in training rather than only mid-level or senior level can be a powerful way to establish culture "throughout" the entire organization. This may involve bringing in outside trainers, programs and services or development a "curriculum" of your own to meet the needs of the organization.
2. Constant Contact - While the marketing software of constant contact is a fantastic software, the principle is what we want to acknowledge here. People are much more at ease and in support when they know what is going on and how it affects them. The initial deployment may have been a fantastic event, but if daily updates and communication do not continue initiatives will fall to the wayside among the many other tasks employees have. Eventually like our phone dying above we are left in a scramble to try and put power in our battery. This is sometimes referred to as fire fighting. By keeping people involved and utilizing techniques like huddles, one on ones and town halls we can keep our teams involved in the most recent updates. If you can establish a consistent method of communication and recharging you won't have to worry as much about your "phone reaching a "worn out limit or dead level."
3. Yokoten - Yokoten is the practice and pattern of sharing best practices and learning laterally in an organization. The principle of "sharing" is not only a core concept in the establishment of culture but a key element in driving daily improvements. If we think of this concept like our phone analogy shared above, it makes sense that charging a phone once a week is a recipe for disaster. But developing a pattern of plugging your phone in every night will ensure that it stays charged throughout the day. The same concept can be applied to our organizations. If we have a project here and there we might see some improvements but if we drive improvements everyday and look for others to share them with, we can ensure that we are consistently moving in the right direction.
4. Make it measurable - When you look at your phone throughout the day your bar indicates a percentage of life the battery has left in it. When we make initiatives measurable we can see, monitor and track how much that initiative is affecting the organization. By establishing appropriate metrics to monitor your "strategies" life you are better able to pivot when you need to or continue improving. If it get's measured it will get improved.
5. Coach instead of direct - While there may be times when direction is required, teaching others why it was required and how they can recognize when it's required put's more momentum behind the change. We certainly would not want to call a friend every night to tell them to charge their phone but rather offer a true learning experience for them to do it on their own. This sometimes requires senior level executives and mangers to take a step back and become more personal with teams. Using policy deployment methods such as hoshin kanri can assist in:
1. Establishing a direction.
2. Providing a clear focus for that direction.
3. Aligning the organization.
4. Helping to understand the reason why.
This method of deployment is an effective way to give your internal customers a voice.
Whether it's a phone dying or a strategy that needs a recharge these critical elements will provide some level of support and guidance for your lean batteries and help get you back on track to a full charge.
About a week ago I had the wonderful opportunity to present to a group of professionals on the topic of lean strategy. Over the course of the night I was blessed with great conversation, networking, sharing good food and making new friends. As the night came to a close we approached the Q&A portion. As you may have guessed this is an opportunity for attendants to ask any question they want and for me to respond. I of course valued all of the questions through out the session however, one stuck out in my mind more than others. One gentleman raised his hand and asked "what of all the projects that you have completed has been your favorite project throughout your career?" For a brief moment my mind flashed back to cycle time reductions in a lathe center, then it turned towards a 5S event I was a part of about 10 years ago and finally a strategic initiative almost 11 years ago where a vision was established that still remains in effect today. Although these small handful of projects prior to obtaining any real ranking stood out in my mind I could not help but think that throughout the years my most important project ever has always been in regards to the development of people.
While the project may differ from person to person most managers, supervisors and even executives would agree that without people no project could be as successful as it may be with people. People at a unique element of personality, competitive nature and the want to develop something great that technology and machines simply can not match. So why exactly is the people side of lean so great?
Successful strategy involves people and behavior
Although every initiative is different we often realize that somewhere in the beginning stages of strategy we see words like: team, committee, communication and group. These core ideas are often paired with development and training. Whether it is an ERP implementation or the first initial development of Hoshin Kanri people are always part of the projects success, they are one key driver in a 3 fold balancing act that ensures that the strategy is formalized, overseen, shared and discussed with the entire organization and inevitably it is people who drive and balance actions that ultimately will accomplish objectives.
People as a project?
It probably feels uncomfortable to say out loud "Johnny is my project," and we don't often think of people as projects but indirectly somewhere in the project plan people will always fall into the most important "project" of all. For just one second ponder the thought of any child's school years.
Although we may not use "grade levels" to track our employees we do utilize such tools as balanced scorecards and performance metrics as a means of monitoring the organizations learning and growth and though we may not refer to it as a "people project" the core idea behind this learning and development is directly related to people.
Ask any great coach, sensei or teacher "what was your favorite project?" Some may respond "I liked that book report or that 5S was great, you might even get a few "my favorite project is setup reduction or changeovers" but chances are in the back of there mind people are somehow related to that favorite project.
The fact of the matter is that people whether a direct development "project" or a focus as a future mentor are in fact the most important initiative we can undertake. It is in their development that we guide organizations towards the achievement of visions and strategic goals. So .... the next time somebody asks "what is your favorite project?" What will your answer be?
Some time ago while visiting an old friend of mine, we decided to go to a gym and train a bit of jiu jitsu. While we were training it became rather apparent that he was in shape and I was not. Afterwards we sat and reflected on a few of the reasons that became quite apparent during our training. Over the course of the conversation my friend mentioned to me "It's all about the basics." He followed this up by saying that sometimes people try to master the advanced stuff before they have really learned the basics or the foundation. Similar to jiu jitsu the basics of lean are more important than we may understand. Today we will discuss a few different ways that everyone can strengthen even basic concepts of Lean and there may be a free course for everyone too.
One of the fundamental thoughts of staying strong in basics is that the basic skill, art or technique that you are engaging in is used every single day. You know, the age old saying "repetition creates mastery." Interestingly enough we sometimes fail to just observe the Gemba in order to identify new opportunities for improvements. In our latest updates on the 8 forms of waste course we continue to utilize the "Ohno activity" more appropriately referred to as "stand in the circle." Very few can say that there was a better sensei than Mr. Taiichi Ohno.
When was the last time you stood in the circle?
Although there literally was a circle drawn at times by Mr. Ohno I personally see the "circle" as a place that goes with us anywhere. What I mean is that we don't need a yellow chalk circle to actively go to the Gemba and understand, rather the circle can be anywhere. This as many of you know is one of the reasons there is such an excitement with Gemba walks. It not only allows the person walking the Gemba to Go and See, but at one point or another they will almost certainly be "standing in Mr. Ohno's circle." While going to the gemba is a fundamental concept of a Lean strategy we must also ensure that there is time to "stand in the circle" while at the gemba. While we often times are seeking to observe and discover waste when engaging the gemba, standing in the circle helps us to focus and observe an area with "narrow eyes."
How many forms of Waste have you identified today?
Many years ago, about 12 to be exact while sitting at my desk engaged in a six sigma project as a young improvement enthusiast a gentlemen in a polo shirt with a Tier 1 aerospace name on it approached me. He asked me "What are you working on?" my response went a little something like this "Well sir, my grandfather told me to stand at a CNC lathe for the entire day yesterday. He didn't tell me what to look for or what to do there he just said, watch. He followed that up with get to know the people in the area at lunch time and at breaks but over the course of the day, watch." The gentlemen then replied "what were you watching for?" a bit hesitant I said "I don't really know, he didn't say. He just said to watch and then the next day to write one page for these five questions he wrote down." Of course the gentleman asked if he could see them and I shared:
1. What did you see?
2. Why did what you see happened?
3. Was what you saw performed the same way for the entire day?
4. Is there anything that you saw that looked or felt abnormal?
5. If there was one thing that stood out to you during the day what would it be?
To my surprise the gentlemen responded with a chuckle and said, "I've been there before." I shrugged it off and went back to my report out. I later realized that this activity was teaching me how to observe, how to postpone judgement and finally how to identify opportunities. As the years have passed I learned that the 8 hour activity performed in that little aerospace shop and Toyota facilities around the world could if need be happen in a matter of 5-10 minutes with a structured methodology to follow.
Don't neglect your foundation.
Everyday we are faced with strategic decisions, tough purchases and operations that requires a response to demanding needs. While these aspects of business will never go away we can not neglect the foundation of Lean. The only way to remove waste is to establish behaviors that remove waste. Sometimes those behaviors can be driven by policy, procedure and even metrics. Whatever the means of driving behavior that finds and pursues the elimination of waste it is much more powerful when done every single day.
Like it became obvious on the Jiu Jitsu mats that day with my friend, we often times don't realize the importance of seeing and identifying waste daily. Because waste is not accompanied by a shortness of breath or excessive sweat it is harder to pinpoint than categorizing low profit margins and lead times that are increasingly long. But when we make an effort to discover waste daily, like an athlete may train in his sport daily the results can be astonishing.
If your interested in finding our more about waste click on the link here: 8 Forms of Waste Introductory Course. The course is completely free while updates are occurring.
Inventory as many of you already know is one of the 8 wastes in any organization. Along with Over-processing it may be one of the deadliest forms of muda there is. Without a clear demand attached to inventory there are many risks involved in storing large amounts of stock. While there are many ways to reduce inventory it is often times a combination of tools that follows a detailed analysis and assessment of why inventory keeps "piling up." Today we will address a few key elements to take into consideration when looking to reduce the waste of inventory.
We should note first that there are 4 main types of inventory which include: raw materials, work in progress, finished goods and MRO items that are often used to support operations and any other organizational functions that may be necessary. This is a concept that often gets overlooked, however what it tells us is that inventory can be built up and cause waste all throughout the value stream. One other key concept that should be taken into consideration when looking to reduce or mitigate the effects of inventory is what inventory is actually used for. There are many reasons why a company might choose to have inventory on hand, some of which are: supporting the organizational strategy and its operations, support financial objectives and finally as a buffer to balance supply and demand.
While inventory is one of the deadliest forms of waste often times it can not be "completely eliminated." However, it should be at the most effective level so as to be seen as an asset and not a cost that is eating up your balance sheet. So how can we reduce inventory to an effective level without creating bottlenecks and losing customers? Well there are many different ways but here are a few that may support your efforts and move you closer to a "perfect balance."
Eliminating waste in general will lower inventory
Now that we understand there are multiple different types of inventory and not just the "stuff" sitting in stock awaiting an order it is much easier to understand that items "waiting" in queue are considered work in progress, and those bulky packages that are being "transported" to and from areas, well those items are the in-transit inventory that often never get accounted for. These are only two examples of how inventory can almost always be lying silent behind other forms of waste, by removing or reducing transportation, motion, waiting, over processing and any other form of waste you will move product much quicker. This ultimately increases your "inventory turns" and inevitably creates an environment where your funds are not invested quite so long in the inventory items that are being produced. One of the most effective ways to identify inventory and any other form of waste is to map processes, product lines and services out. By doing this you can make visible the types of waste that are in your value stream and ultimately plan for their mitigation.
Produce based on demand generated at the customer's pull
One of the most common reasons associated with the waste of inventory is working to a forecasted demand or "pushing" products through the system. Push systems and forecasts are often a build to plan type system, additionally they build to that plan and at times set aside changes or fluctuations that may occur. This can result in excessive inventory and waiting. When we build to external customer demand that flows into internal customers we have a better view of what the "customer" is actually pulling for. One method associated with pull systems is the kanban system. Much like a sales order triggers the recipient to fulfill a need or solve a problem kanban helps to connect actual needs with the associated information. Often times kanban can be a powerful tool to reduce inventory and move towards the ideal single piece flow environment. The same concept is used when our MRP systems have accurate lead times and actual demand being driven. For instance a sales order is placed in ERP/MRP which in turn drives a "project" for engineering to review and then get's flowed down to a planned order in the exact quantity that the sales order was put in the system, unless of course there is some "safety stock" built in. This is of course assuming that it is a make to order environment. None the less when we build only to the pull or demand of the customer we can infact produce only what is needed when it is needed.
Be cautious of bullwhip effect
The bullwhip effect is the idea that demand is generated by and through the customer, however as the demand travels up the supply chain or an extended supply chain "worry" sets in at each level causing more and more safety stock to be built in at each entity in the chain. So if the customer wants one, from the retailer, the distributor might order two and the manufacturer might produce three causing somebody in the chain to have some inventory. Often times this can be mitigated through communication methods such as S&OP and providing an accurate amount of visibility into the actual demand of the customer.
Utilize Six Sigma
There are some instances where inventory is held in order to prevent a constraint from becoming a bottleneck. This is a very common practice in organizations that utilize a strategy known as the theory of constraints. While the theory of constraints is a very effective method of acknowledging that there is in every process at least one constraint, we should also recognize that there is a fixable root cause that can usually assist the constraint. Sometimes that method is to reduce variability coming off of lines. One common example of this concept is when a company has a poor yield rate or they continually get "defects" coming out of a process. In order to deal with the defects they place a calculated amount of inventory in a strategic location to make up for the poor yield rate. While the defects may be common cause or special cause reducing the variability to a sigma level and controlling it may be the answer.
While all four of these points can be a powerful way to reduce inventory, you will only really know what to do after analyzing and assessing how much inventory is actually needed vs. what is being held and answering the "why" element. In closing there are many different ways to lower inventory but again be very cautious that one action does not affect others in the value stream. You wouldn't want to solve one issue only to create another.
As we all are aware the PDCA method is cyclical in nature. continued repetition of PDCA that brings you closer and closer to your objective/vision each time the cycle travels around. This concept makes the PDCA model a perfect model for strategic Implementations. We have now traveled through P-D and C leaving us with only A left in our cycle. If you remember we referred to PDCA as Prepare, Do, Continuous Improvement and Again.
The again stage may hint that the cycle starts again and inevitably it will, however it is very important that as you end your cycle you realize first that it is only the beginning. In the beginning of the deployment we had our vision (assumed in our case) and keeping in line with the concept of Hoshin Kanri we pointed our needle in the visions direction using reason and logic through analysis in the prepare phase. Additionally we established appropriate metrics in order to control and channel the organization's strengths while harnessing new opportunities and mitigating to the best of our ability any threats at hand. Eventually after "doing" we came to a point where progress needed to be checked in relation to benchmarks and scorecards. If you remember this third stage was our continuous improvement phase where we focused on the continued development of teams, training and moving forward. Now our cycle is ready to begin again.
Chart the course, are you on the right path?
At some point or another you probably caught yourself thinking, "are we headed in the right direction?" Uncertainty can begin to swelter and that lack of faith can affect the strategies positive effects on the organization. Although strategy is usually a 3-5 year journey (at the least) you should plan for regular check in's throughout the journey.
You can think of Lean as the vehicle to reaching your vision. The course you chart is the route or method that will get you there. In both situations you may need to fix, maintain or refuel the vehicle, course and even the people riding with you, essentially this can be compared to PDCA, cyclical in reaching its objective it must happen in order to keep moving forward.
Remember it takes time
Strategic implementations can be quick, however most of them require resources and focus on three elements: people, process and technology all of which can require significant investments. Along with time each tactical action may require a certain level of investment. The investment comes in the form of money, buy-in, time and often times with the change there is a need for repetition. Be aware that lean is not a light switch that can be turned on and off but rather it is a journey that requires significant planning and execution. The PDCA method provides a clearly laid out "system" for implementation. Although your metrics, plans and tactical objectives will no doubt be different than other organizations with time your lean strategy can be just as fruitful as any other.