Tag: Waste

Great Scott! Potential Sighting of Lean Product Development!

doc-brown1

There’s a scene in Back to the Future 2 where Doc and Marty McFly are trying to figure out how they have come back to a completely different 1985 than they remember.  Doc has a simple timeline up on a chalkboard, trying to outline to Marty how there has somehow been an alternate future created due to Biff getting a hold of a history of sports outcomes, taking the DeLorean back to 1955 and giving it to a young Biff, which is why Doc and Marty can’t travel back to the future from this reality to stop Biff from stealing the time machine because they are in an alternate reality and it won’t happen there…

Ok, you’re right, we’re already getting off-track.  The point is, Doc’s very simple timeline reminds me of how a mature company who gets introduced to lean product development might tend to think:  How can we go back in time and design our products so that all these years they would have cost us less money, taken less work and resources to produce and distribute and innovate against, and provided more value to our customers and our consumers?  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Applying lean concepts in a manufacturing environment, at least to me, seems to be much more straightforward and logical to understand.  The world is more transactional, has shorter cycle times, and tends to already have a plethora of process measurements to pull data and analyze from.  And there are numerous success stories to help sell the thinking and tools (and sometimes just the tools).

When we move to apply lean in the product development world, it always feels like we are starting from scratch.  How good are we at delivering on innovation?  How well do we understand our consumers needs and wants?  How would we even measure the health of our product development process?  Knowledge-based development?  Don’t we already do that?

There is a very good reason why it is important to get lean in the world of product development.  I’ll paraphrase from Ron Mascitelli – No matter how lean you make your factories, if you fill them with fat products, you’ll never realize the full potential of how profitable your product line can be and how much value you can deliver to your customers.  You will always be limited by the waste that is built into the product design very early on in the development process.

So now to the sighting of lean product development.  I don’t even know that this company is lean, knows what lean or lean product development is.  They could simply be very creative!  But what I observed seems to be a great illustrative example of end to end waste reduction through product design.  And I wish I took more pictures to share with you…

We recently finished the inside of our garage, and of course we said, let’s get some nice new cabinets to go with those freshly painted walls!  My wife found a great online deal on a set of NewAge metal cabinets, so we ordered them.  Within a short period of time they delivered a pallet to our garage with two large boxes on it.  Just one pallet, for something that would measure several feet long and tall.  As I looked at the box, I only wondered how much work I would have to do in order to assemble all the different cabinets.  I imagined something similar to a typical piece of Sauder furniture – all the flat side, back, bottom and top pieces nicely tucked into to the boxes with minimal space, but plenty of assembly hardware included.

Garage Cabinets in PalletOne morning I decided to open everything up and calculate how many hours I would need to commit to getting these up on the wall.  I opened the first large box only to find one giant single cabinet inside.  I was concerned – were there several other pallets on their way with other cabinets?  I opened up the doors on the large cabinet and found that inside were several other of the smaller cabinets.  They fit perfectly inside with minimal packing materials.  I moved on to box number 2 and found the same thing – one large cabinet with the other small cabinets inside.  I was very impressed (and happy) – this entire set of cabinets all compressed into one small area on a pallet, and I wasn’t even going to have to assemble them!

I realized with conventional thinking, your cabinet design paradigm might be that all the cabinets had to be the same depth so they were flush with each other and looked nice.  So all you would be able to do is box them individually, or break them down into multiple pieces that the consumer would then need to assemble.  If a conventional product development process designed these cabinets, then it may have taken up several pallet spaces on a delivery truck, multiple SKUs in a warehouse to keep track of, and extra inventory of each of those SKUs.  And if a company wanted to take cost out of the product or process, there is a good chance they would turn to thinning out the materials, squeezing the supplier for alternate lower-cost materials, do their best to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process, use cheaper fasteners, and so on.

Garage Cabinets unpackedThis is where the wish for the alternate timeline comes in.  What if at some point in the past they had designed a cabinet that consumers wanted but didn’t need to ship in separate boxes or be assembled by consumers?  What if they were able to design something that could be sold as a package and only took one SKU in the warehouse, and only one pallet space on the truck?  Surely this is a more desirable reality than the conventional one.

It seems to me that a designer or design team somewhere along the way asked the question of whether keeping the faces of the cabinets flush with each other was a true consumer need.  And if not, what if we reduced the depth on the smaller cabinets so they could all fit inside the two larger cabinets?  And put it all on a single pallet?  The result in this case was a very happy consumer and impressed lean thinker.  I can only assume it also resulted in a happy company and a profitable product.

So how would a company ensure that they didn’t just get “lucky” with one great design idea?  How can they constantly work towards the best product design possible that creates the most value for the company and the consumers?  The answer lies in the fundamentals of lean product development, from set-based concurrent engineering to evaluating risks to 3P and beyond.

Garage Cabinets

How do you begin this transformation?  Decide that’s the direction you need to go, get educated, get a capable teacher, and try!  Read a book: A Ron Mascitelli or an Allen Ward book are excellent and complementary to each other.  Based on my experience, it’s likely to be a long transformation, so that makes today a better day to start than tomorrow.

“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.

TourBusStuck1

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?

Turn Our Waiting Room Into Just… A Room. How’s That For A Hoshin?

Ikitt‘ve enjoyed many of the commercials GE has put out over the last few years.  They seem to have struck a nice balance between informing about technology and entertaining the audience.  I mean, how many times do you find a new way to use KITT in today’s advertising world?  One of the first I remember was “Healthcare Re-Imagined – Love Story” which showed how improved technology can help patient care.  And who can forget the little kid capturing the power of wind?

geimaginationatwork

The most recent agent smithbrings in Agent Smith from the Matrix to explain to us how GE technology in hospitals is improving patient care and reducing waiting time.  And at the end, I think I heard a pretty good hoshin!  Here’s some of the dialogue from the video, Agent of Good:

GE has wired their medical hardware with innovative software to be in many places at the same time…  Using data to connect patients, to software, to nurses, to the right people, and machines.  Helping hospitals treat people even better while dramatically reducing waiting time.  Now a waiting room… is just a room.

There are some additional videos from the GE website connected with this video, including aventura-hospitala visit to Aventura hospital in Florida where we hear snippets from the hospital staff on how they believe the technology is helping them improve the quality of care.  In an earlier video one statistic they throw out is that the system has helped reduce the waiting time for patients by 68%.  Not bad!

If you spend a little extra time, you can find little coded spots (I’m not sure why they made it so hard and repetitive) using the time bar in the first extra video that give additional facts, such as:

  • A typical hospital can expect nurses to get an hour per shift back to spend on patient care, up to 250 hours annually
  • Can help increase equipment disinfection compliance up to 90% at a typical hospital so equipment is there and ready to go faster.

Now, I’m not always an advocate of a complex, capital-intensive electronic system being a countermeasure.  In the first year, or even months, you usually find so many things you wish you had known about when you designed the system, but to change now would mean costly rewrites to software or changes to hardware that you’ve already sunk a lot of money into.  Before developing such a system, first I’d ask, is there a simpler, more manual way to get the same job done?  In fact, many times someone develops a new shiny system just hoping to find a problem to attach it to.  But, if you develop a system to solve a problem, if you take time to define the problem and study your potential countermeasures,  and then design an electronic system to implement the solution and sustain it… well, then there’s not much to argue about!

From the additional videos, I heard several comments from the hospital workers that were really focused on how they use the system to improve patient care:

  • Everything is tagged and is specific to that equipment, and I can go into the system and see exactly where it is in the hospital and see that.  And since my area is critical, it’s a matter of life or death.
  • The GE software helps me provide better care because I’m able to get to the equipment sooner that is often vital to that patient
  • When a patient comes in to a hospital, they expect to be treated efficiently, effectively, and returned to their home.  The GE software is the catalyst that has helped us improve the bed management system.
  • It wasn’t until the GE software was implemented, that we were able to significantly reduce the amount of time a patient waits.
  • For that nurse to have that extra 5 or 10 minutes to spend with a patient, it makes a world of difference.
  • What if, we were able to see that a nurse only got to spend 2.7 minutes with a patient?

Hoshin kanri is usually associated with setting strategy.  I’ve always associated it with the image of a compass pointing you in the direction you want to go, towards your ideal state, or what I’ve heard called an organizacompassnorthtion’s “True North”.  Many times a slogan, or a short set of phrases, are associated to help bring imagery and meaning to the purpose of your organization.  A simple (and Toyota) example would be Lexus with “The relentless pursuit of perfection”.

A hoshin helps focus your organization’s improvement efforts by outlining a vision of where you want to be someday, even if you may never get there.  As you implement lean, you may create a great kaizen process, hold many improvement events, reduce changeover times, 5S the heck out of your maintenance area, create wonderful management systems with visual controls…  but at some point you may sit back and reflect from a distant vantage point and ask yourself, do we know why we did all of this improvement work?  If you are operating with a hoshin in mind, you should be able to connect most of your work towards the achievement of that ideal.

“Turning waiting rooms into rooms” may be a smaller hoshin, for one area of patient care, so it isn’t likely a rallying cry for the entire healthcare industry.  But it is connected to improving the patient experience, and is something just about anyone can relate to.

Does your company’s lean transformation have focus and purpose?  What’s your hoshin?

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.

I Came, I Saw, I Problem Solved… I Only Got To A Temporary Countermeasure. Do I Still Feel Worthy Of Lean?

Problem solving to root cause is an important skill to build capability in.  The “why” behind problem solving to root cause is so that you prevent problems from ever recurring again, thus eliminating potential waste from your future PDCAactivities.  Along the way you grasp the situation, take steps to contain the problem so you are still able to provide the product or service to your customers, understand potential direct causes, test the connection from cause to the problem, develop and test a countermeasure (your hypothesis towards preventing the problem from ever coming back), and put measures in place to sustain and check that the countermeasure works and is still in place.  (Yes, this is simply a description of P-D-C(S)-A with a containment step thrown in!)  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about 4-Step, 8-Step, x-Step or DMAIC problem solving, the fundamental principles are all the same.

Most organizations that begin a lean transformation are already very good at what they think of as problem solving.  A problem comes up, I work hard to understand what caused it, I fix what caused it, and we’re up and running again.  I add it to our troubleshooting guides and therefore if it happens again we will be able to get up and running even faster because we know how to fix it!  And the veteran problem solvers will be able to tell you war stories of all-nighters where hours of investigation finally yielded something they never thought of: a motor wired backwards and turning in the wrong direction, a bit set wrong in the control logic, or an incorrect part sent and installed that looked just like another part but had different guts.  They might call it “stuff that never should have happened if someone else had done their job right in the first place”, because they are still learning what it means to focus on the process and not the people.  And how if only they’d called the expert in the first place they could have avoided all those hours of downtime because he’d recognize the symptoms and connect it to a problem he solved 5 years ago and could have told them exactly what to check and fix.

“Haven’t we worked on this problem before?” and “Didn’t we fix this last year?” are common phrases you might hear that should trigger you to wonder if you really understood the root cause of the problem the first time.  It feels like problem solving deja vu!  You honestly shouldn’t feel bad about it though, especially if you are still at the outset (read: first several years or perhaps decades depending on point or systemic problems!) of your lean journey.  Solving to root cause, so the problem never occurs again anywhere in your organization, is hard.  It can be hard to identify the root cause, hard to rollout countermeasures across groups in multiple global locations, hard to not get distracted by all the other fires you need to fight this week that seem like a much higher priority.

I recently switched cable, internet, and phone service providers from Time Warner to att uverseAT&T, for a whole host of reasons that could be turned into another post on “thinking customer”.  I’m actually very happy so far in a short period of time with what I now have from AT&T Uverse.  It’s not all ice cream and puppy dogs through the switch however, I have had a couple of internet setup issues that have been frustrating, but they’ve actually been more due to lack of knowledge and added system complexity on my end vs. something that was the service provider’s responsibility.

Yesterday I woke up to a new problem.  When I tried to open a web browser, I got an error message from my AT&T wireless router that popped up on the screen, saying “Excessive Sessions Detected.”  It explained that one of my computers had a whole lot of internet sessions going at once, and that it was likely the result of some form of a virus, or malware.  So, my head began doing problem solving.  Target = Able to access the web from all my devices.  Actual = Not able to from one PC.  Let’s continue to grasp the situation.  Check PC #2 – I get the same error.  Check IPhone – I get the same error.  Actual now equals “Not able to access web from any devices.”

Excessive Sessions Warning

Potential direct causes… 1) the error message tells me it may be a virus 2) the error message tells me I may have gaming software causing it 3) could be a problem with the router 4) a power problem or connection problem somewhere in the system 5) something is broken on AT&T’s end 6) my internet cache is full 7) just something weird that requires a restart.

Ok, so let’s try and work through the most likely causes – 2) I can eliminate this cause, don’t have any gaming software going on (sad, I know, I’m a long way from my college and single days!).  4) check to see I have power everywhere – all ok, eliminated.  1) the system error is telling me “virus” is the first place I should look.  So I run a check, and sure enough, it finds two items and eliminates them.  So as I restart my computer my mind is already jumping down the why chain to root causes like, inadequate standard for setting up my antivirus software, or inadequate process for selecting antivirus software.

Computer is restarted, and… nope, error message still pops up.  How about 7) – let’s restart the router and everything else.  Nope, error still there, can cross that one off.  Now it is about time for work, so I eat some breakfast, watch some TV, and off I go.  Midway through the day my wife tells me the TVs no longer work.  So now, new information surfaced that tells me that something in the system is degrading – the problem is getting worse!  So in my head I mapped out how the system worked and where problems could occur (see setup picture below), and couldn’t figure out what was changing to cause the new problems, because most of the TVs don’t run off the router.  Why did they work in the morning and then suddenly not work in the middle of the day?  Now I start leaning towards something on AT&T’s end as the direct cause.

ATT Setup Map

When I got home I hopped on the phone with AT&T, explained the situation and what I’d done so far, and then we went through their troubleshooting guides.  We do a reset from their end, restart computers and routers and DVRs, and the error still comes up. We cleared the internet cache and tried again.  Still have the error.  We’ve now eliminated 5) and 6), and AT&T is out of ideas on their end too.  Their only solution left is to send out a technician tomorrow, and maybe they’ll swap out a router to try and check 4) – the only direct cause we have left on the list.  This disappoints us, because we wanted to watch the new Modern Family!

As AT&T is finalizing the order for the technician, I decide to check one more thing.  On the error message there are two buttons – one says “Do Not Show” and the other says “Continue”.  I had tried “Continue” early on and didn’t get anywhere.  “Do Not Show” was labeled as something you should only click if you think the cause was gaming software 2) which we had already eliminated, and I didn’t want to ignore the error if I really had a problem or a virus.  So at this point I said what the heck and clicked “Do Not Show”.  It asked me to log in to my gateway, I did, and then it gave me a message – “The problem has been resolved.”

docmcstuffinsEureka!  We were now connected to the outside world again!  My three year old would not be without her Doc McStuffins in the morning!  We could watch Modern Family!  I could stream YouTube videos through my TV again!  I was the hero, I had “resolved the problem”!

My lean thinking was gnawing at me though.  I didn’t know what caused the problem in the first place.  I can’t recreate it.  I can’t develop any countermeasures to prevent it from happening again.  And I’m not sure the AT&T person really captured my “solution” in their knowledge database so that they try it with other customers in the future before deciding to send out a technician.  Yes, the problem is contained, and we are up and running again.  Is that good enough for this situation?  Or should I have done more?

Good organizations are very quick to recognize and contain problems, and to get up and running again to avoid customer service issues.  Great organizations have the discipline to spend time working towards truly understanding the root cause of the problem, developing adequate countermeasures, and ensuring waste never recurs.

Vow of Silence

I was under the weather the other week, but decided to push through and ensure a couple of key training sessions I was giving occurred as scheduled.  By the end of them, I had lost most of my voice and was considerably worse off than when the week had begun.  So I decided that my first priority was to rest my voice, and so I took a self-imposed “vow of silence” for a 24 hour period.

This was an interesting experience.  First of all, it was difficult to even remember not to talk sometimes!  Cesar MillanBut it also reminded me of how much we rely on words to get our points across or get things done vs. other methods.  For example, when the dogs went to go bark at the mailman, you couldn’t yell at them to sit and be quiet.  You had to find another method not involving your voice that they would understand.  Usually, it was a much calmer method than yelling.  Cesar Millan would be proud!

Also, it meant when sitting at the dinner table I was able to simply listen to the conversation between my wife and kids, instead of trying to think about how I was going to respond.  Or when we were playing a board game I could just sit and watch as the kids took their turn and enjoy how much they were learning and growing instead of trying to make small talk.

How does all this relate to Lean thinking?  Well as I sat there in my small world of silence and ridiculous hand gestures, my mind drew parallels to two concepts – standing in the Ohno circle and listening to the Voice of the Customer.

Standing in the Ohno Circle

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching”.  Early on in my lean journey I remember reading about or hearing about the concept of standing in the Ohno circle until you were able to see waste and come up with improvements to eliminate it.  WhOhnoen we were first learning about what waste was, we went out to the machines and observed what was going on, coming up with examples of all the types of waste.  We were developing our capability to see, and there were plenty of waste examples to go around.  But you didn’t interject yourself into the process, didn’t go fix something you saw right then and there without understanding the cause – you simply observed and built a deeper understanding of how the process functions.

It is a little bit harder to stand in a circle in an office environment.  If you draw a circle in the hall, you’ll probably write down lots of examples of copier waste, walking back and forth between meetings, having to get up to get a drink of water or hit the restroom… things that may not be all that useful for driving results with lean transformation.  But I’ve found it very effective if I actually sit in with someone in their office and simply watch them do work and have them describe what they are doing, asking “why?” every once in a while.  Even simple tasks such as observing them writing an email and asking why they need to write it to get information they should already have reveals gaps in the business process.  Or perhaps you shadow someone for a few hours, sit in the meetings they sit in, and record all the forms of waste you see, including how many meetings don’t result in any actual actions or decisions.

Usually if you are standing in a circle on the shop floor, there is room somewhere for you to be out of the way and slightly more inconspicuous than if you are sitting in a cube looking over someone’s shoulder.  It can be a little uncomfortable at first, both for you and the employee.  But this is where the work is done, this is where the time is spent, and this is where the waste occurs that you need to be identifying and striving to eliminate.  So maybe it should be difficult and uncomfortable – if it was easy to see, someone probably would have already improved it.

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

What is value-added through the eyes of the customer?  Knowing this is what drives us to improve our processes, because everything that is not value-added in the eyes of the customer is waste – and why would we want to keep producing that?  It isn’t always easy to hear the voice of the customer, because we don’t always listen when they talk to us.  Many times I have seen people receive feedback from a customer but during the discussion defend the way things are done currently, tell them why they can’t give them what they want, offer potential band-aids to some of their concerns, and even direct the problems back onto the customer and try to blame the problems on them and their demands!

Is some of that justifiable?  Sure, maybe, in some sense.  But the key here is that obtaining the customer’s feedback in order to understand what they are thinking, what they value, and what they wish you could deliver to them shouldListening be the objective of the conversation.  Shelve the notion that you need to deliver a solution to them that very minute.  Shelve your pride and try not to defend why things are the way they are.  Try not to interject yourself into the conversation other than to steer it and to ask questions that probe deeper into their needs.  Remember that your goal is to listen, to hear, and to understand, and to take that feedback, reflect on it, and determine if there are reasonable things you can do to improve on what the customer values.

 

It’s nice to have my voice back now, but maybe I’ll have to schedule myself to take a short vow of silence every once in a while just so I remember how to listen.

 

What Can You Learn About Lean From a Garbage Can?

You can learn a lot about Lean from a garbage can.  Don’t believe me?  Well, let’s try a case study.  Here is a recycling trashcan from my office building, which has two openings for recyclables.  Someone has taped a sign over one side that instructs us to “Use this side only when right side is full”.  It is only taped on the top edge so you can flip it up very easily.  Study it, pause, don’t read ahead, take 2 minutes and extract as much about lean as you can.  Think deeply!  Then continue reading.

Recycle Garbage Can

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Done?  So, here’s what I saw the first time someone pointed this can out to me.

Overprocessing waste – Someone recognized that the can capacity was overdesigned for the area.  Both sides were being used, but were not filling up by the time the cleaning crew came around to empty it.  There are two separate bins with garbage cans inside, so a crew member had to empty out two half-full, or less than half-full cans every time, even if only a few empty Coke bottles were in one of them.  It may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but take x number of cans in the building, x number of minutes to empty and replace the bags, x number of times per month… it does add up to some real time.  Cut that time in half and you have opened up whitespace for that crew member to do other value-added work, and likely cut in half the number of bags you use.

Empty Wallet Approach – When this problem was first recognized, one solution could have been to replace all the double trashcans in the building with single ones that were half the size.  But that probably would have cost someone some money.  They tried a very simple, cheap countermeasure first.

Poke a yoke – Another countermeasure could have been to put a sign up on the wall behind it, stating the guidelines, asking us to follow them.  I envision a bag of mixed results with that one.  Some people might read it and commit it to habit, but some will walk by and never even read that sign, and just throw their recyclables in either open hole.  What are you going to do then – hold a site-wide training session on the most efficient way to use a recyclable bin?  Send out a mass email with instructions that most people won’t read?  By placing a physical, visual sign over one of the holes, you are error-proofing your countermeasure by preventing someone from just tossing a bottle in the overflow side unless they were to “override” the system.

Knowledge waste – This sign was in place on all the cans I saw in our office location.  However, I happened to be walking around in another one of our buildings soon after this and saw the exact same can, but no sign on it.  And sure enough, there were bottles in each side.  Someone had developed this great countermeasure but they hadn’t shared it with others, and so their fellow employees are still dealing with the waste.  So to speak.

Did you think of some other lean concepts while studying the can?