Tag: continuous improvement

“Respect For People” Shines Through In Sandy’s Aftermath

My friend Dave shared a wonderful video with me today that I felt really exemplified Toyota’s concept of “respect for metro logopeople”, especially in connection with doing something good for the community.  The video shows how employees of Toyota’s TSSC team went to work with Food Bank of New York and Metro World Child, creating an initiative called Meals per Hour.  Over an 8-week period, they applied several fundamental concepts of lean in order to get more food to more families faster.  They worked on identifying and eliminating waste, and creating continuous flow in both the packing and distribution processes.

What I loved most about this story was that there was no discussion of cost.  No questions about “what kind of return might I get on this investment of time” or “does this save us any money”.  All I heard was that they wanted to try to improve in order to make the job of the volunteers easier, to ensure more families were fed, and to improve the speed at which they provided service to the families.  In the end it states they were able to feed 400 additional families in half the time it used to take.

1 view 1 mealI checked on Toyota’s news release area and found that in addition to improving the process, for every view of the video on YouTube they would donate one meal to the families, up to 250,000.  The response was so high that they increased their donation limit an additional 1,000,000 meals – and it looks like as of today they have already surpassed the million views mark.

I noticed another video about Toyota and the TSSC (Toyota Production System Support Center) partnering with the Tree of Life Clinic in Tupelo MS to apply lean concepts to improve conditions for patients and volunteers.  tree of life clinicThe clinic provides free healthcare to those with no insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.  Top problems identified were long waits for patients and long workdays for the volunteers.  Patients might have arrived as early as 6:40 in the morning for a clinic that opens at 4:30 pm, to ensure they are seen that day.  And volunteers were staying as late as 10:00 at night in order to get as many patients through as possible and to complete all the paperwork.

By applying several tools and lean concepts such as 5S, process flow mapping, standard work, and eliminating waiting waste between doctor/patient interactions, they were able to improve in those top problem areas.  The results showed an average decrease of 24 minutes per patient, increasing the number of patients seen in a day from 80 to 90, while reducing the volunteer’s workday by around an hour each day.

Tree of Life results

On the Meals per Hour website, there are several more small videos and blog entries by authors brought in to document and add awareness to the issues and impacts on community members.  I only clicked on one entry so far where Vera Sweeney discusses what she took away from TPS principles – “Change your Thinking and Change Your Life”.  She relates a story about a Toyota employee attempting to improve a restaurant’s order accuracy and how she applied a TPS concept or two at home with her family to improve their morning routine.

I think all these stories illustrate and confirm how much waste exists out there in areas where lean thinking is not being applied yet.  There are a lot of gains to be made to improve the quality of life for people and communities – both the workers and the customers, no matter what the business or venue.  And when you consider how long it takes (in years and decades) to build capability in people to see and eliminate waste themselves on an everyday basis… isn’t it time we got started on that journey?

long journey

Continuous Improvement At Le Tour

tourfrance_2013This upcoming Monday is a rest day for the riders in the Tour De France, and boy do I need it.  No, not because I’ve been logging the same number of miles on my bike in the flatlands of Wisconsin as the pros are on the mountain roads of the Pyrenees.  It’s because I’ve been watching hours and hours of coverage on breakaways, attacks, climbs and echelons – and there simply aren’t enough hours in the week to keep up with it all.

I’ll be the first to agree that the majority of people out there aren’t going to be riveted to their seats watching two hundred cyclists ride between four and six hours nearly every day for three weeks.  Even I tend to fast forward through the flat stages to get to the sprint finishes.  But I have a great admiration for the speed, stamina, distance, and effort at which they pound the pedals.  And just turning on the tv and watching the Tour probably wouldn’t have instilled a sense of awe in me either.  It really came after I read two of Lance Armstrong’s books, Every Second Counts and It’s Not About the Bike.  Within those books Lance gave detailed accounts of the inner workings of the training regimen, the strategic planning, and the teamwork necessary to compete at that level.  After understanding more about the intricacies of the sport, you begin to see more in the television coverage than simply a group of grown men out on a long and arduous ride.

This year’s tour is the 100th installment.  There are 21 stages over 23 days, and the route covers over 2100 miles.  Typically the Tour starts off with a flatter stage with no large mountain climbs, seeming to ease in to the three-week marathon.  The flatter stages tend to see a large peloton of riders approaching the finish line, resulting in a sprint to the finish where speeds reach over 40 mph.  Stage 1 in 2013 was a flat stage on the island of Corsica designed to end in a sprint.  It was a fairly uneventful ride, until the riders were around 15 minutes from the finish line, and chaos ensued as one of the team buses got stuck under the finishing line banner.


The bus was wedged in, with its air conditioning system punctured on top.  People seemed to be wandering around trying to figure out a quick fix, but no one had an answer for this unprecedented situation.  The only thing that was clear was that if the peloton reached the finish line and the bus was there… well, it just wasn’t going to work!  Tour officials were forced to make quick decisions on how to deal with the situation.  Their first choice was to change the finish line further up the road, 3 km short of the finish.  Probably a better solution than a big crash or canceling the stage, but the teams had spent months preparing for the right sequence of events leading up to the original finish line and didn’t have a plan for how to win at a different location.

TourBusStuck2You could tell the poor bus driver felt absolutely horrible and helpless in the situation.

TourBusStuck3DriverIn the end, they were able to deflate the tires on the bus, back it out, and open up an exit on the side of the race to get the bus out of the way.  Then the race officials re-adjusted the finish line back to the original location.  As this adjustment was communicated again through the team radios, a crash ensued in the race involving several of the top sprinters, adding more chaos to the finish.  It turned out to be a much more exciting stage than anyone had expected.

So let’s do a little examination of how the bus happened to get stuck under the banner – what were the causes, were standards present and/or followed, and what kind of things can we put in place to prevent a situation like this from ever occurring again.  First off you might ask, why was the bus even driving on the course?  Well, they tend to parade buses and floats and other vehicles through the finish line before the riders reach the end.  And then you might ask, well what about all the other team buses?  Was this bus special and tall?  Why didn’t they run into it?

From what I can make out of news reports, the banner itself can raise up and down, and it usually up for the parade and down for the finish.  The Orica Greenedge bus was behind schedule, and the banner had already been lowered.  Then reports say the driver received instructions to continue moving on.  A comment from a race official stated he needed to stop and request that it be raised.  Clearly, several failures along the way contributed to the unfortunate state of affairs.

So, lean thinkers – do you blame the process or the people in this situation?  The easy road would be to say the driver was inexperienced and should have known better and it was his fault.  But I’d ask, why was the banner lowered before all the vehicles were through?  Why is the banner set lower than the height of the vehicles going through in the first place?

If I were to jump to a solution before truly understanding the cause, several potential countermeasures come to mind.  All vehicles that will pass under the banner should be measured prior to the stage and any potential problem heights should be noted and tracked through the finish line.  Or, all vehicles over a certain height are not allowed to go through the finish line.  You could even come up with a warning measurement system a few hundred yards ahead of the finish line that alerted the drivers and officials to a potential problem based on the current height of the banner.  All of these solutions, if implemented and followed, might very well prevent a similar situation from ever occurring again.

But we can do better.  All of those countermeasures add some form of complexity to the system.  Added steps of measuring vehicles, added technology near the finish line, added people to do all the extra work – each extra simply increases the opportunities for error, especially if it relies on human interaction.  Ask the question, what purpose does the banner at the end of the race serve?  It is a visual cue for sprinters so they know how close they are getting and when to begin their final attack.  It displays the time, presumably for spectators near the finish.  It has advertising for major sponsors of the race.  And I believe it holds timing system equipment and photo finish cameras on the sides.  You could deliver these functions in other ways.  Visual cues could be done with a balloon or soft hanging banner.  Times for spectators could be displayed on a screen not hanging over the finish line.  Timing system equipment and photo finish cameras can still be erected on the side of the course.

Side benefits might include one less large apparatus to erect and take down each day, one less place where mechanical or electrical maintenance is needed, or where other difficulties could occur.  Perhaps the resources used on these steps could do other value-added work instead.

Many times we consider how to counteract a problem we encountered by adding steps to stop it from occurring.  We should step back once in a while from the solution and ask the question – do we even need this in our process?  Is it still relevant, does the customer still need it?  Or can we remove the possibility of defects occurring by eliminating a step.  Can we make the whole process easier and less prone to defects by subtracting rather than adding?

Gandhi And The Art Of Continuous Improvement

When I was a co-op in Fort Wayne Indiana, my place of work was on the west side of the city and the large apartment complex where we lived was on the northeast side.  There were several different paths to get from Point A to Point B.  You could pop up north and take the highway around and come in from the west, you could take one of the larger roads south and then cut straight across and come in from the east, or you could do some zig-zags to go in a more direct path.  Of course, as young co-ops who had just learned about six sigma techniques and were anxious to practice them, we designed a DOE to determine which was the fastest method of getting to work depending on what time you left.

The answer was typically the zig-zag method, although getting caught at any number of stoplights with a long wait could throw you off several minutes.  It got to the point where at one particular location we knew that if we saw a red light and a line of cars, we would break off from the main route through two side streets and would get there just in time to jump ahead of the very same line of cars we would have been following.  Were we safe drivers while following our standards?  Did we follow the speed limits and traffic laws?  Sure, to the extent that most 21-year olds do.  But, I’d say we were driving with added intensity, focused on reacting to the situation in front of us so we could shave seconds and minutes off our commute everyday.

taco bellThat added intensity geared towards doing things in the most expedient manner spills over into other areas of your life.  Later that year I was waiting in the drive-through line at Taco Bell for lunch, and it was taking longer than usual.  I remember feeling extremely stressed, extremely upset, because of my perception that they were wasting an inordinate amount of my day, and my smoldering gaze was zeroed in on the motionless cars in front of mine.  At one point I glanced to my left at the dining area of Taco Bell.

There in the window was a kid, acting like a kid.  He was probably seven years old, and he had placed multiple straws in his nose, ears and mouth, and had the biggest, happiest grin on his face you can imagine.  He smiled at me, gave a quick tilt of his head, and then he turned around and went back to his food.  It was like he knew at that very moment I needed a shock of silliness to my system to remind me to relax, that life was not always about how many seconds of variability there were in your drive to work every day, that being angry at the cars in the drive through line at Taco Bell was not worth my energy and didn’t make sense.  I turned back to the line of cars, sat back in my seat a little, and smiled.  From that point on I took a much more relaxed drive to work.

This connects to a key point I try to get across when I teach people about standard work.  After I teach that standards are the basis for improvement, and that they should be the least waste way we know today, and that it is ok and important that standards change, I ask if we should have standards for everything.  The point I try to get across is that you need to have standards for important things.  What are those things that truly connect with enabling you to create value in your workplace or your life?

gandhiThe theme for this post came about because I recently attended a “time-budgeting” class offered at work.  It was very high-level, no new concepts that I hadn’t heard, but it was a great opportunity to reflect on whether I was truly applying those concepts, particularly when it came to choosing the important and urgent work over others.  The facilitator had a quote from Gandhi (although it appears slightly modified) in his presentation that made me stop and think.  The quote was:

“There is more to life than increasing the speed at which we live it.”

Every once in a while I feel myself slipping back into that person who cares a little too much about shaving minutes and seconds off.  And every once in a while the image of a big smile, straws, and silliness reminds me to take a step back and ask if it’s really that important.

Hard-Wired for Lean?

Ever take part in a team-building event where you and your co-workers take a personality test to find out more about what makes each other tick?  I know that I’ve taken several over the years, and have seen a few used in our company that I haven’t taken.  Usually you get some kind of a “scorecard” that you can post on your door or your desk to show others what type, score, or color you were rated at.

myersbriggstypeI’m actually a big fan of personality tests from a personal reflection standpoint, ever since I took my first Myers-Briggs in college.  I’ve usually been amazed at how accurately they seem to describe me after only answering multiple choice questions, without any face to face discussion or direct observation of my behaviors.  Some test result descriptions speak in generalities, while others seem to have been sitting in the room with you over the past month!

Many of the tests you take at work as part of a business team event are meant to identify strengths and weaknesses, better methods of how to communicate with each other, and when used properly are supposed to turn you into a more effective team.  My experience has been that managers and team members rarely know how to “use” the results to actually improve and realize the full potential of the information you just learned.  But you nearly always learn new things about your co-workers, which can lead to increased communication, therefore meeting success criteria for a teambuilding event.

dilbert relocation

This past week I switched offices at work.  I won’t go into all the waste I observed while only moving to another location 30 yards away.  But moving tendsinsights-discovery-wheel to be a great time for cleaning out all those old files, papers, and accumulated “stuff” that you forgot you still had.  (Yes, I know, I should have a better 5S system!)  While leafing through some of these documents, I found a personality test my group took in 2010, and decided to take a few minutes to read through it.  It reminded me that when I originally read through the report, I thought it to be an accurate assessment that described me to a T.  (“Color/Insights Wheel” from Gatehouse Alliance)

Several statements in the personality assessment really stood out to me that I can connect to Lean thinking:

  • Usually weighs up all relevant factors before reaching decisions – I like to evaluate multiple alternatives, I want to know how a decision in one area affects work in another area, negatively or positively (how it affects the overall value stream), and want to make sure root cause has been identified and verified before implementing solutions.
  • Can look for flaws and errors in almost everything – This can go both ways, because if you focus on nothing but problems and don’t celebrate any progress or accomplishments, it can be very demotivating.  On the positConCive side though, if you are of the mindset that everything can be improved in pursuit of the ideal, then this is a great skill to have vs. just saying everything is fine, let’s keep things how they are today.
  • Sees the world…as in which he can develop a series of procedures and regulations that will take care of the situation in hand – Process-oriented thinking, I see that there is a lot of opportunity to eliminate waste and defects by operating with the current least waste practice (and improving it!), and that I focus on the process and not the people.
  • May tend to believe that the success of the team and its individuals are a measure of his own success – I think the correct concept here is “servant leadership”.  Typically leaders are not the ones who create value in an organization, the team members are.  I believe the purpose of a leader in a lean environment is to develop the next generation of leaders by ensuring they have the opportunity to build capability, to remove obstacles from their work and their mindsets, and to ensure the team is working on projects aligned with the organization’s needs.
  • Ideal environment is one in which unity and cohesion prevail, theories and ideas have been tried and tested, clear rules and procedures exist – Here I see respect for people through respect for standard work and testing hypotheses, the organization is set up and connected in order to be highly efficient at creating value, and pathways for products and services are simple and direct.

Reading through these statements, I got to thinking about lean transformation.  There is no question; adopting and building a lean culture is difficult for most companies, and it takes time.  There are about as many recommendations out there for how to begin to transform as there are lean practitioners.  One common option is to choose a test area, try to apply the thinking and tools, generate, celebrate, share the good results and use the story to generate traction in other areas.  But how do you choose the right area?  Who are the right people to choose to lead the transformation?  Who are the right people to choose to do the work and learn the thinking first?  What kind of skills should you look for?

By most measures, I’d be considered an “early-adopter” in our culture change.  Lean thinking simply connected with the way I thought, or wanted to think.  Was there a chance I heatmapwas “hard-wired” for lean even before I learned what it was all about?

The bigger question is, can a tool like a personality test be used to identify key traits of potential early adopters and get them involved at the outset?  Or perhaps, could a widely distributed test give you an output that could be used like an organizational “heatmap” showing where higher densities of “hard-wired lean thinkers” exist, to help you choose your starting point?  Would there be value in knowing where you might find the path of least resistance and where you might encounter tougher than expected obstacles?

Just like any subjective test, data like this should be used as one of many decision criteria, not the only criteria.  The test is only as effective and accurate as the effort and information that people feed into it.  And I think for an effective lean transformation there need to be people who learn and apply the thinking and tools well, but there must also be individuals who are skilled in promoting and selling the change story to your organization, and these two skillsets may not always overlap.