Dec 20, 2006

A Visit from Sensei Nicholas

With thanks to Kris Beauchamp, Rob Cushard, Sue Kozlowski, and whoever came before them:

'Twas the night before Report-Out, and all through the House of Quality,
Not a creature was stirring, (no Six Sigma frivolity!);
The Standard Work Combination Forms were hung in the gemba with care,
In hopes that some measurements soon would be there;
The team members were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of continuous flow danced in their heads;
And the Process Owner in her sari, and I in my TPS cap,
Had just settled down with our Value Stream Map,
When out on the gemba there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the vertical blinds and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the work cell below,
When, to my wondering eyes appearing like jewels,
Came a miniature Toyota, and eight tiny Lean Tools,
And that white-robed figure, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Sensei Nick.
More rapid than point kaizens his Lean Tools they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Seiri! now, Seiton! now, Seiso and Seiketsu!
On, Shetsuke! on, Kanban! on, Jidoka and Kaikaku!
To the top of the work cell! to the top of the wall!
Drive waste away! waste away! Waste away all!”
As muda and mura and muri all fly,
When tackled by process teams, to make quality high;
So up to the ceiling the Lean Tools they flew,
With the sleigh full of Value, and Sensei Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the shop
The Lean Tools at work as they made the waste stop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Sensei Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in white, from his head to his foot,
But his gi wasn’t tarnished with ashes or soot;
A Value-packed process he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a JIT vendor just opening his pack.
His Kanban cards—how they sparkled! His cycle time – how fine!
His andons were green, and his Production Control Board did shine!
His work sequence was beautifully charted,
And it was clear that line balancing soon would be started;
The S. M. E. D. plan he held tight in his grip,
And it was clear that while he was there, quality wouldn’t slip;
He had a set-up reduction down to a fine science,
And no problem at all with SOP compliance.
He was lean but not mean, a right jolly little creature,
And I laughed when I saw his distinctive feature;
A black belt with multiple bands on the end,
Soon gave me to know I had found a new friend;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fulfilled the customer demand; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his Toyota, to his Tools gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Value-added steps to all, and to all a good-night.”

(With apologies to Clement Clark Moore, who wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822 as a Christmas gift for his children.)

Dec 19, 2006

Unscientific thinking at Scientific American

The January issue of "Scientific American" carries a small item with this headline, "High IQs may help thwart post-traumatic stress." The magazine's editors and the researcher at Michigan State must have slept through statistics and lost their common sense. The study's author says she started with the premise that PTSD could cause lower IQs, but changed her mind.

Let's remember that high IQ means that you performed well on an IQ test, not necessarily that you are more intelligent - again, the author tends to disagree with me. But a traumatized child is likely to have more trouble sitting still for a long period of time, concentrating, thinking of right answers, and completing them under time pressure.

Oh- she also tried to identify kids with PTSD by questioning parents about anxiety-related behavior in their children. In homes with varying degrees of abuse, hidden alcohol- or drug-dependence, etc., parents are more likely to be in denial about their childrens' emotional state, or more likely to hide the situation. So kids with high IQs who happen to be from such homes are not going to be counted among those with PTSD.

The researcher's assertion that high IQ may help people stay out of trouble just gives us "smarter" suburbanites another reason to write off people who live in trauma-producing parts of our communities. After all, if they're too dumb to do anything about what goes on there, why should smart people try to do anything about it?

Intelligence is about much more than performance on an IQ test. It is awareness of the feelings of others, ability to recognize relationships between people, alertness to danger (which is exactly what PTSD is all about), ability to negotiate social hierarchies, and much more. Why is the state of Michigan wasting money on this sort of research?

Dec 2, 2006


In the last few months, I've noticed that some items of clothing at Target have been tagged by means of printing rather than by attaching a separate piece of material. On some fabrics, it seems that all the information you'd expect to find on that irritating tag can be printed right onto the fabric. The printing is on the inside of the garment and doesn't show through to the outside.

Printing the tag information requires an additional piece of equipment in a sewing line, adding complexity. It's also necessary to supply and inventory the ink. The tradeoff is one less sewing operation, ordering and inventorying separate tag material for each brand produced in the factory, and ordering, inventorying and matching separate size tags for each garment variation. A printer can be designed for quick changeover from brand to brand, and size to size.

Seems to me that printing is leaner than applying tags. I doubt that Gucci or Armani will get rid of their tags anytime soon, but for lower-end brands where low cost and low price are imperative, the printing option looks like a good choice.

Nov 27, 2006

Off the leash

You haven't lived unless you've been to the Chicago dachshund races - don't worry, these are ordinary pets not subjected to any race-related cruelty. My son Chris and daughter-in-law Natalie took us, their Maltese Fritz and their doxie Mona to the Barking Lot last week to see if Mona could compete. She's about as tiny a dog as you can get, so we hoped they'd have a tiny-dog class of racers.

We got to the Barking Lot's spacious Big Playroom and found about 50 dachshunds milling around, with a few of their non-dachshund friends. There didn't seem to be any breed discrimination. The owners stood or sat among their pets, who came back for cuddling every so often. Then some people with both dogs and kids started coming in. One little girl stood in wonder and said, "Look at all the DOGS!" The kids milled around with the dogs.

One little boy fell in love with Mona and followed her on all fours, but Mona trotted along as though she didn't have anyone shadowing her. Some dogs allowed kids to pick them up, and eventually Mona gave in and let her friend hold her too.

What was surprising was that the dogs were all comfortable in their pack, smelling each other and moving along to meet other dogs. Only one dog was aggressive, and Fritz seemed to want to approach him time after time. The aggressive dog's owner had his dog on a leash, and was getting pretty irritated with Fritz. Chris and Natalie had to go get Fritz and carry him away several times.

Chris said that they'd made the same mistake of keeping Fritz on a leash when they first started taking him to the dog park. (Chicago has everything.) He said that if the dog knows you've got his back, he feels safe in going after the other dogs. When you let him off the leash, the other dogs behave in such a way that he learns his place and happily joins the pack. If you've watched the "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic channel, you've seen the same thing.

After the dogs and people hung out for about an hour, the races began. There was a four-lane track and the dogs ran several heats, and then had the playoffs. One of the dog's owners held the dog at the starting line, and another knelt at the finish line with treats and encouraging words. At the start, four people rolled tennis balls down the lanes to help the dogs get the picture. Mona ran about three feet and veered off the track to socialize again. Fritz got to run a heat, although his win didn't count since he wasn't a doxie. Eventually five-year-old Hannah won the trophy.

Believe me, I struggled for a lean lesson so I could report this event in this blog. Finally I realized that if you let people off the leash in the workplace, they'll find solutions to problems and develop effective social groups (we call them teams). Traditional management is about chaining you to a machine or a desk and cutting off informal social leadership and problem-solving. And the doxie races show it's not worth it to ask people or dogs to compete and come up with a single winner. It's about the pack itself succeeding -- in this case, to just get along with each other and have fun.

Sorry, I don't have any pictures, but for more dog behavior fun, go the the Barking Lot website and click on the webcams link. Loading will take a while, so do it when you can wait, and also expect to install some ActiveX things. The username and password are posted on the site.

In the webcam video, you'll also notice the Barking Lot's continuous maintenance processes - the people with mops erasing the territorial marks some of the dogs want to establish. Click "refresh" if the dogs and people appear to stop moving. It's actually a pretty crappy site, but dog care, not website operations, is the company's core competency and business objective.

So maybe businesses and other organizations should just let things go to the dogs.

Nov 15, 2006

Back to the welfare office

Reluctantly, I went back to the welfare office (Family Independence Agency, soon to be renamed the Department of Human Services) to get proof that I'm not suspected of child abuse. (See my past few posts for the whole story.)

It was less crowded, so the wait was shorter this time. While I waited, the clerk on one side of the counter was in discussion with two women and a social worker on my side of the counter. One of the women had come in to get her food stamps, but was told her case was closed and she wasn't getting anything. That's why a social worker had been summoned. There was a bunch of discussion about why you couldn't get food stamps with a closed case, and why the case's social worker couldn't be contacted, but the woman said she'd been told she could get them. (I'm guessing at some of this, having arrived in the middle of it.)

There was some unproductive back-and-forth, until the clerk - who had a computer terminal, while the social worker did not - volunteered that there were really two different case numbers for the woman. Apparently this was pretty unusual. It seemed that the records of the second case number revealed that the woman's case had been transferred to the very same case worker who was telling her she couldn't get benefits.

The woman was told she could get the food stamps if she came back the next day. It seemed the other woman couldn't be helped either. She wisely asked the clerk who her social worker of record was.

Some of this, of course, was going on as the same clerk was looking through a stack of envelopes looking for mine, and naturally she forgot my name at least once and had to start her search over again.

There was also a piece of paper taped on the counter where I waited that said to be sure to allow 2 to 3 hours to submit an application for benefits. I didn't notice the sign anywhere else, so it seems like you might have to wait in line to get the application, then have to come back because you didn't have that much time to stay there.

Why does this system assume you can just come back day after day to get what you need? That means you need a car. It means that you have to find a babysitter, or bring your kids with you. It means more time out of your life you might have needed to study, or do your grocery shopping, or cook or clean. Or maybe look for a job.

Luckily for me, I'm done with the system - but our taxes are going to continue paying for waste. In a sense, as taxpayers, we're the customers looking for value as much as the clients are. We want our fellow citizens to be protected from some of the consequences of being without funds, and we're paying too much. The clients are paying too - with their time, their self-respect, and the taxes they paid in the past and will pay in the future.

Iowa is tackling the problem. I've e-mailed a person who reported on improvements in their DHS system, and hope to hear how things can work better.

Nov 14, 2006

More about checking my fitness for being a volunteer

Reading the application instructions again for my volunteer role as a tutor in a residential school for girls, I see that the school will perform the criminal history background check that I wrote about in my last post. The clearance from the Family Independence Agency Central Registry is a different thing. That registry lists anyone named in complaints to the Children's Protective Services in which a preponderance of evidence of child abuse perpetration is found. It's a state law that this clearance be provided before an organization's staff or volunteers can have contact with children.

I'd consider that a "monument" that can't be easily moved aside. However, the clearance can be requested by mail as well as by visiting the office in person. That's not included in the school's volunteer application instructions.

You need inner resources to be able to handle situations like the welfare office, and all I can imagine is being told that it DOES actually take a full week to get the cleared form, and wasn't ready Monday as the worker told me.

On a gray November Michigan day, I'm just not going to go there. I'm even more grateful that I'm not out of work, out of money, and without a place to live. It's a place without hope, and doesn't have to be that way.

Nov 13, 2006

Background check

If you read my last post, you'll understand why I'm procrastinating about my return visit to the local welfare office. My excuses are that my husband has a day off for Veterans Day (that's Michiganese for start-of-deer-hunting-season day), and I can spend time with him. Besides, they're probably closed too, don't you think?

It will surprise no one to learn that the Michigan State Police has an online service where you can look up anyone and see if they have a police record or warrants, if you know their date of birth, social security number, and driver's license number. Unless you have a greater level of clearance, you can't see what the charges or warrants are. It costs $10, payable by credit card, and the fee is waived for nonprofits. It was amazingly simple and took me less than 10 minutes to learn that my record is clear. I printed out all the relevant web pages to take back to the volunteer coordinator at the school, and am thinking of the most effective approach to take with her.

The lesson is that systems change, and it's easy to be unaware of a new way to accomplish a task. When people are overloaded (muri), they don't have the chance to explore improvements. So they don't improve the system, and the overloading continues. It's not the people in the system, of course. It's the organization's culture - "The way we do things around here" doesn't include enough learning and experimentation.

Nov 9, 2006

Welfare waste

I doubt that many of us visit the welfare office very often. I ventured into one yesterday – not down on my luck, fortunately, but on a different waste of time. I told myself I’d learn something, and I did.

First, why did I go? I am applying to be a volunteer tutor at a residential facility for girls whose families can’t care for them, nor can they fit into the foster care system. It’s imperative to protect the girls, and volunteers have to jump through several hoops, one of which is a background check of some kind. This is done at the Family Independence Agency, which in Michigan means “We’ll give you some money, but get off your butt and get a job because it’s not going to come forever.” Sounds lean – or mean – doesn’t it?

First thing you see is security guards. It will become obvious as I tell the story why someone might flip out and get violent. The guard behind the desk directed me to the same “Reception” line as everyone else stood in. Darn, I thought there'd be someone who could do it right away because it was so simple. Luckily, there were only about six people ahead of me. As I waited, I observed.

To my left was a human inventory holding area – about 60 chairs, arranged in rows, with about 20 people occupying them. Occasionally, one of them would approach the desk to ask why the wait was so long. Between the clients and the workers there were about three people behind the desk who were supposed to deal with the flow, and they looked harried and sick of the whole thing.

Every few minutes, one of the people waiting would be called to the desk and some actually dispatched to see their social worker. Some of those waiting who pulled the andon cord, so to speak, succeeded in getting their social worker paged or e-mailed a second time and were put back into the process flow.

Among the staff, there was a lot of walking around, a lot of paging and e-mailing of social workers, a lot of interruption when the social worker responded, a lot of waiting and a lot of frustration.

A couple of stories:

A woman in line behind me needed to get something to her social worker that day or her utilities were going to be cut off. There was supposed to be a drop box she could put it in, but naturally she didn’t trust that process and wanted to put the envelope in the social worker’s hand. I would too. But an unnecessary wait if the system worked. We all looked around, and eventually saw that there was a table with slot in it with a dingy label saying “drop box,” but there was no assurance that it was the right drop box or that anyone even emptied it on a regular basis.

When I got to the counter, the clerk was immediately interrupted by a message from a social worker, so she called the person who'd been waiting to the counter while I was shunted aside. This was a man in a wheelchair, apparently partially paralyzed, accompanied by a companion who had some sort of helper role. The clerk told him that the social worker said he didn’t have an appointment, and that message seemed to mean that the man had waited for nothing and would have to come back. He held out a blank benefit application and tried to say that he just needed help filling it out.

The clerk admonished him for signing in on the appointment sheet. How would you know? I wouldn’t. She asked, couldn’t the other guy help him? The man said he couldn’t. Then she said he’d have to wait while she found someone to help with the application. How many unnecessary obstacles can you count for both the clerk and the applicant?

Back to me. I produced the form, which the volunteer liaison told me I could just have them sign upon seeing my driver’s license. Of course, that turned out not to be true. I needed to show my social security card. She repeatedly asked if I had it, or had something else with my social security number on it. All I could do was repeatedly say with a helpless note in my voice that I didn’t, and I hadn’t been told to bring it. (And most of us have heard that we shouldn’t take anything with the number on it with us if we want to avoid identity theft, but I didn’t want to say that. I didn’t want to make her mad; she was the only person who could help me avoid another wait.)

She was clearly frustrated and said she had told the school before that people needed both forms of identification. She thrust a piece of paper toward me that had a few lines of text, one of them covered with magic marker, and wrote at the top in big capital letters, “ALOUD 1 WEEK,” with a phone number at the bottom and the name of the school. Apparently I was expected to take that back to the school so they’d stop making the mistake. How did it become my problem? Whatever. She grumbled and decided to accept my form anyway. Oh, I could come back and get it Monday. Maybe that’s what “ALOUD 1 WEEK” meant.

My empathy for all the people in this situation was growing. It was frustrating, to the point of anger, and humiliating for the people who needed help. There are a lot of people getting laid off here in Michigan, and more people like this man in the wheelchair who shouldn’t be subjected to these obstacles and long waits. I'm sure there were a couple of malingerers or cheats among them, but that's beside the point.

And, it's taxpayer money being wasted. Someone probably thought that laying off some FIA workers would be a good way to save money. Thus, inadequate resources to keep up with the process flow.

What percentage of people would at this point, leave the office and never come back, and never even tell the school why they dropped out?

I still needed to get three references. And, since I needed a TB test, the liaison had taken me to the clinic after I met with her (good) to get part one of the test, and I needed to go back to have the test read.

More potential drop-outs from the volunteer recruiting process.

I decided to calmly keep on, and besides, I was getting interested in all the ways these processes could be improved – not that anyone was likely to care.

Tune in early next week for the rest of the story, after I visit the FIA again.

Oh yes, it does say on the very wordy "How to complete the Volunteer Application" to take your social security card when you "drop off" the form at the FIA. The reason for the check is to ensure "that there are no pending or substantiated child abuse charges against you." I agree that protecting the girls is paramount. But why not add the instructions to the badly Xeroxed page that the FIA form appears on?

It's a lesson in going to the gemba. You can't really understand the process until you've walked it.

Nov 3, 2006

Pull vs. push for global health

My recent retirement has given me the opportunity to go through all the issues of the New Yorker I'd been saving. An article by James Surowiecki in the December 20, 2004 talks about a pull system for pharmaceutical research. Great Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to buy up to 3 million doses of a successful malaria vaccine for the developing world.

Research is more often funded by grants for work someone says they are going to do, whether it's successful or not. That means the taxpayer underwrites a lot of waste, if waste is defined as work that doesn't result in a usable product. The money is pushing research.

Pharmaceutical companies don't fund the research because there's no payoff. Where the drugs are needed, there's virtually no money to pay for it. Where there's no money, there's no customer and no market, whatever the desperate need is. There's more money in arthritis in the developed world.

So Britain's promise ought to spur competition for the hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds at stake, the pull of a customer initiating the processes that build the product the customer needs and is able to pay for.

Will it work? Sadly, like other simplistic notions, it may be doomed. Andrew Farlow at Oxford authored a report, The Science, Economics, and Politics of Malaria Vaccine Policy, in April 2006 that exposes a lot of flaws, especially where it became an "understanding" with Glaxo-Smith-Kline.

But it sounded good, didn't it?

Nov 1, 2006


I found examples of stupidity and cupidity in a recent scan of the news:

At the beginning of the Gulf War, F15E fighters used a $4.6 million targeting device to locate and destroy Scud missile launchers on flatbed tractor-trailers. A camera took nearly-perfect pictures and the Air Force believed nearly 100 Scud launchers were destroyed. When a team went to verify the kills, the actual number was zero. The targeting devices did not distinguish between missile launchers and decoys or oil tanker trucks. Malcolm Gladwell, “The Picture Problem,” The New Yorker, December 13, 2004

In the 2000 and 2004 elections, survey data seemed to reveal a “culture war” represented by red states and blue states. Other survey data showed that almost two-thirds of people in red and blue states believe big corporations have too much power, and many in both states believed protecting the environment was important. The two groups were only 12% apart on issues including gun control and the death penalty. Thus, characterizing the American public as polarized is a misuse of data. Rodger Doyle, “Myth: Red-Blue States,” Scientific American, November 2006

A candidate for Oklahoma state superintendent of schools said book manufacturers should use Kevlar in textbook covers so students would be able to use them as shields in school shootings. “Perspectives,” Newsweek, October 30, 2006.

Pfizer’s new drug Caduet® is being marketed as a handy combination of a high blood pressure and a high cholesterol reducer. It contains the calcium channel blocker Norvasc® and the statin Lipitor®. A 30-tablet supply of Caduet (10mg Norvasc and 10 mg Lipitor) costs about $100 at 10mg of Norvasc costs about $65 for a 30-day supply, and 10 mg of Lipitor is about $75, so the combination seems like a bargain. On the other hand, while there’s no generic for Caduet, calcium channel blockers can cost as little as $10 per month and the statin lovastatin is about $30. That means you ought to be able to save 40-50% by buying two generics together, and much more if your health insurance has a low co-pay for generic drugs. Pfizer ad, Parade magazine, October 29, 2006., October 31, 2006, BCBS formulary, October 31, 2006. FDA, October 31, 2006.

Oct 25, 2006

Interviews you probably won't see anywhere else

Art Smalley just sent out his quarterly newsletter, which was kindly forwarded to me by Terry Begnoche of SME. Art has posted some new interviews with experts he met on a recent trip to Japan.

-Mr. Nakano former Tooling Regrind Supervisor
-Mr. Oka former Production Manager
-Mr. Jibiki on Set-Up Reduction
-Minoru Haga on Tooling Engineering
-Tom Harada on Equipment Maintenance
-Tom Harada on Jidoka
-Isao Kato Interview on TWI and TPS
-Isao Kato on Shigeo Shingo
-The Toyota Vision? European Sales Executive Yoshio Ishizaka

I strongly recommend that you visit his "Expert Interviews" page on the "Art of Lean" website and dig into them yourself. Thanks Art.

Oct 24, 2006

Who's counting?

I've been thinking about pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, and wonder why they don't adopt a simple standardization rule. So-called "maintenance meds" for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., are usually prescribed for a 30-day period, with 12 refills. (Or a 90-day period at the mail-order pharmacies some of us have to use.)

Have you ever gotten a batch of 180 pills, with 100 in a manufacturer's container and the other 80 dispensed by the pharmacist? Or 90 pills, which were probably dispensed from a 100-pill container?

If all these meds were packaged in 30-pill containers, the pharmacist could just look at the number per day the patient is to receive and pull the amount easily. If it's two a day, pull two containers. If it's three, pull three.

Maybe the drug company would supply 30-count packages to retail pharmacies and 90-count packages to the mail-order ones.

No undercounting or overcounting. No chance of mislabeling. Less waste of packaging. Simple standard counts. Is that being done anywhere?

Oct 16, 2006

AirTran "quick turn" passenger changeover

I figure it won’t be long before anyone with any lean knowledge is going to be banned from airports. Airlines must be pretty tired of our criticism by now.

I'm in Dallas to the Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference. In the Detroit airport, I saw something just a tiny bit like lean.

As I waited for my American Airlines flight, I observed the action at the AirTran gate. At 2:20 pm, long before the AirTran plane arrived, the gate agent was telling the scheduled passengers in the "human inventory holding area" (HIHA)that AirTran was going to have a quick turn – essentially reducing changeover time between deplaning and embarking passengers. She said it would take 20 minutes and at 2:50 precisely she was going to shut the plane door.

She went on to say, “I need you to…” buy water or a drink if you wanted one because the plane was going to be full, go to the bathroom, get your boarding pass ready. She said she was going to line them up according to seat number and asked for their cooperation. These were all the external activities she had probably seen people perform during the actual changeover. (I thought she’d repeat this for later arrivals to the gate, but she didn’t.)

When the plan was docking, she reminded people what the plan was and started them lining up, directing them to an area where they wouldn’t get in the way of the deplaning passengers. I wonder how they were being shooed off the plane on the other side of the changeover. I had to board my flight before the AirTran flight hit the magic 2:50 start time, but I suspect that the quick turn was more successful than the American turn was – darn – I should have timed ours, but didn’t think of it.

Oct 13, 2006

Getting management on board

How often have we heard, "Lean won't work without management support"? It's undoubtedly true, but there must be some ways to convince "them" that lean is worth the commitment. So I'm asking you out there to share one or more ways to get management on board. And how do you pick which method to try? If we all do a good job, we'll have a Lean Directions article. I'm hoping we can compile ten ways, because that's a very nice number.

Let's help our colleagues quit complaining and lamenting if there are some solutions to the problem.

Oct 12, 2006

Be my guest

Last week I participated in a kaizen learning experience conducted by Ron Holcomb of the Lean Learning Center. Jamie Flinchbaugh, one of LLC’s founders, has been incredibly gracious about inviting editors to public training events without charge. I don’t think he does this with the goal of free publicity for the Center – his writing appears often enough to get the company plenty of visibility. I think he does this to make the lean community better by making people like me more knowledgeable and grounded so I do a good job of editing the newsletter. This is important because I get a variety of possible articles and some authors just don’t know what they’re doing. The more I know about lean in the real world, the better I can screen out the junk, and help serious writers get their message across in the best way.

Not only did the Lean Learning Center open their doors to me, but a local company opened their doors to our class of about ten people from other companies. Some of us knew nothing about lean, and some knew a lot. Our companies were diverse. Our host company had about six core people in the on-site sessions, with others drawn in from time to time.

Our class had spent Monday at the LLC’s learning facility, getting the basics of kaizen, activity maps and product-process maps. Most of the people in the class were there so they could go back and facilitate kaizens at their companies, so the training covered how to draw up a team charter, assess the possible kaizen candidates and choose the best, pick the right team members, interface with sponsors productively, teach the process and follow up after the event. It was a lot to take in. Our host company had two people in the class, who were expected to go on to be facilitators in the ongoing program.

On site, Ron led the group in mapping the current state of a bottleneck process. There was a good cross-functional team from the host company who provided the details of the process from start to finish. There was a lot of “I didn’t know you did that,” and “That can’t be true!” in the three days we spent on site.

Most companies don’t want outsiders around when they look at ugliness, particularly in a company in the early stages of lean when there’s plenty of ugly to go around. It was a leap of faith and a sign of management commitment that we were let in. (The company had the right to review the registration list beforehand and bar the participation of anyone who they felt should not come there.) The company was extremely careful to let us know where we could and could not go, and they had good sign-in and sign-out procedures to protect the confidentiality they assured their clients of.

Why did they let us in? Well, we were the “fresh eyes.” We didn’t know their process, and many of us couldn’t understand a lot of the complicated technical talk in the room. But we kept asking questions, and in explaining things to us in detail, they started understanding their own current state better and better. In fact, their process had been mapped not long before, and when the host company’s folks compared the two maps, it was obvious that outsiders had helped them get down to a more revealing level of detail.

Management commitment was good. The operations manager, the kaizen’s key sponsor, was obviously enthusiastic and in the room for most of the three days. The company also had promised that the key process owners would spend all three days in the room, unless the direst problems needed their attention. For a company that was growing fast, and depending on the knowledge of a relatively small number of engineers and technical people, this was a serious sacrifice for potential improvement. Top management came in for presentations by their teams. Some were won over to the cause, and some remained skeptical, but that’s what we expected. It was a start – a foot in the door.

The people taking the class appreciated the chance to learn about kaizen in a real-life situation. We took turns facilitating – trial by fire. I was treated like anyone else in the class, not like an observer.

Everyone left with a gain. Better skills, a better understanding of why kaizens should be conducted in a certain way, and how kaizen fits into the overall system of lean.

My point to you? Open your doors to guests. Make them work by requiring their observations and ideas. Make the lean community better, not just your own operations.

Thank you Jamie, Ron, and all the people who took part in the kaizen experience. I am so grateful to you for investing in me, and in the lean community as a whole.

Oct 11, 2006

My advice? Don't send your kid to college

Not every kid needs to go to college. Vocational high schools are not just for losers. Voc ed is not about kids making birdhouses. Today’s students will turn ideas into digital CAD designs, then translate the data into computer numerical control programs that transform blocks of metal into beautiful shining objects. These kids will compete in robotics contests. They will diagnose and repair automobiles run by little electronic devices with more computing power than a 25-year-old IBM mainframe.

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley can tell you about the new manufacturing plants coming to his state because of the skilled technicians its educational system is producing. These aren’t low-wage jobs in the dark, dangerous and dirty factories parents imagine when they think of their kid’s future. Companies like Boeing, Medtronic and Toyota, along with their suppliers are already crying out for the talent to fill open positions. As baby boomers leave the workforce, the need for technical workers will reach crisis proportion.

Community colleges are fast becoming some of the most important educational institutions around. They routinely collaborate with local employers and economic development agencies to equip students with the experience in problem-solving, teamwork and manufacturing process knowledge to keep these factories running.

In York County, SC, students at a new community college campus will be making full size physical models from the same kind of CAD data the machinists started with, except these will be made of paper and goop with 3D printing machines that are nothing short of magical. The company that produces the machines is relocating its headquarters from California to South Carolina, sharing the cost of educating these young people. It desperately needs a supply of workers who can understand the process and support the equipment that’s rapidly being acquired by forward-looking companies.

The beautiful contours and perfect fit of the sheet metal on today’s automobiles depend on the high-precision complex dies that withstand tons of force applied by immense stamping machines, thousands and thousands of times. Managers where the dies are designed complain that new college-educated engineers may have never operated a stamping press, or even seen one. Thus they don’t fully understanding the processes and lack the ability to make the tooling without its needing costly rework.

Next time you fly in an airplane, ask yourself how important it is that the engines perform as expected. Would you like to take for granted that the semi behind you on the freeway has brakes that can stop it when needed? What about that pacemaker in your Dad’s chest? Not only do you want competent engineers designing these things, you want the people who build them to know what they’re doing.

I recently met some people from the maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Anniston Army Depot. Vehicles damaged in Iraq – some nearly demolished – are sent there. This is the most advanced military equipment in the world. It is dismantled and examined. New parts are delivered immediately or fabricated on site using laser and waterjet cutters, high-speed machining centers and stamping equipment. This is without tying up taxpayer money in big inventories of just-in-case parts.

One of the Anniston guys told me he’d tried college but decided he wasn’t cut out for it. Yet he has skills and talent most of us could only wonder at.

Go into a factory and you’re likely to see spotless floors, well-organized groups of machines, whiteboards continuously updated by workers. Any heavy lifting will be ergonomically assisted. You’ll likely see a conference room where work teams are analyzing how work is done and continuously thinking of ways to do it better and cheaper. You’ll see people throughout the plant proud and confident that fruits of their labor are competitive in price and quality with those made anywhere in the world.

No, the job in the textile mill may have gone away, but today’s manufacturing jobs are plentiful, infinitely more interesting, and requiring skills you’d never find in a college classroom. Should every kid have the chance to go to college? Of course. But there are many more paths to success and achievement than most people preparing our students for the future can even imagine.

Oct 7, 2006

The good shepherd

Most of us don’t think about sheep all that much, but I happened across a research bulletin from Australia that illustrates a woolly parallel with manufacturing:

Dr Norm Adams, Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Livestock Industries has found that merino ewes with the biggest fleeces [for the wool industry] tend to be thinner and have lower rates of reproduction than their poorer-fleeced sisters.

“These sheep can have difficulty maintaining body reserves without a plentiful food supply and as a result can produce fewer lambs,” he said…Dr Adams said the research findings have implications for animal production as well as ensuring that lamb survival is a priority.

He said one explanation could be that their energy appeared to be going into developing a good, heavy fleece at the expense of the animal’s fitness, its fat to muscle ratio and its ability to reproduce.

“Simply put, the findings show that if we push too much for production we can muck up the sheep’s chance of reproducing.” CSIRO
The piece goes on to say that the research was aimed at genetic modification could help produce sheep that would produce yummy lambs as well as wool, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

The point is that human systems, including manufacturing, resemble nature’s. They need to be fed enough to provide robustness (regular machine maintenance), energy (human creativity) and reproduction (business expansion). Focusing only on production ain’t gonna work.

Sep 29, 2006

Giving feedback on my hospital experience

I decided to take a copy of my post, "Wake me when it's over...," including the comments from you lean healthcare folks, to the surgeon when I had my followup visit. I'm a lot bolder when writing about stuff than when talking to someone, but it seemed the right thing to do.

As it happened, I waited 90 minutes after my appointment time before I saw him. (The surgeon's office is associated with the hospital system and in the same building.) I read a whole issue of "People" magazine, while some talk show blathered about something distressing that happened to someone. The 90 minutes included time in the examining room, where the stack of magazines suggested that even here, patients needed something to alleviate the boredom.

I didn't bring up the discussion until after he'd checked my incision and drained some fluid that had accumulated. He did a nice job on the suturing, and I told him that before I brought up the anesthesia issue. (And the 90-minute wait.) He said something about anesthesiologists sometimes seeing different risk factors than the surgeon when they see the patient - yeah, yeah. I tried to be really clear that I recognized that it was the system, not him or any of the hospital personnel.

He told me he'd spent two hours that morning in a meeting about improving things. I didn't ask any more about that, just told him he could keep the copy of the blog post as a souvenir, and hoped he wasn't too irritated with me. Maybe he'll take it to the next two hour meeting.

Sep 25, 2006

One hotel's answer to wireless access woes

Your worst nightmare - urgent business, need to get online, your hotel's wireless access isn't working, and nobody knows what to do about it. Well, one Ontario hotel has the answer.

The Wilhelms were on vacation in Ontario last week, and stopped in Stratford for a little culture. There's a little hotel we like -- rooms above a restaurant, in fact. I had work with me, and getting online would have been nice, but not a matter of life or death. Fortunately.

I followed the directions, my laptop picked up a signal briefly and intermittently. I described my problem to the young lady at the desk, and she asked, "Are you using a Mac?" Always the first question - makes me glad I don't have one. Then it was, "Is your computer set up for wireless?" Yes. It works everywhere else. "Well, let me get Craig to help you. He's the guy who knows about the network." Craig was a bit busy - he's actally the bartender.

I didn't pursue the quest. But it made me think. Why not the bartender? When the guest gets exasperated, just ask him/her to bring their laptop to the bar, offer them a free beer or cup of coffee, and look at the machine together. Build some comraderie, lighten up, come to the conclusion that work just isn't worth it. Call the spouse and kids instead of e-mailing.

Would the world come to an end?

Sep 8, 2006

Wake me when it's over...not before

A few weeks ago, I noticed a lump about the size of half an orange on my shoulder, at the base of my neck. Did you ever see that movie where a second head suddently grows out of a guy's shoulder? That was what I was half expecting to see.

With that mental picture, I rushed to the doctor. He obviously wasn't sure what it was, but sent me to the surgeon. The surgeon is, if I recall his framed credentials correctly, a "top doc." It turned out to be a lipoma - basically a lump of fat showing up where it isn't supposed to be.

The surgeon said nothing would show up on a CAT scan and recommended removing it. Not only was I scared of having to argue with myself any more than I do now, but the lump was also pressing on other things and hurting me, so I said OK. I told him I was concerned about anesthesia, having twice woken up in the midst of a surgical procedure while the guy was still cutting. At that point, you can't do much more than grunt or moan slightly. Flinching is another option, but perhaps not a good idea.

The surgeon said the same thing had happened to him, as a patient. He said he wanted to "put me to sleep" anyway because he was going to have to deal with little blood and lymph vessels. So far, so good.

The process at the hospital wasn't great, but tolerable until the anesthesiologist showed up, after I'd been soaking in a Valium IV for about 20 minutes. He wanted me to sign off on a release about the anesthesia, telling me I'd be sedated. I asked what he meant, and he said "twilight," not "sleep." I told him that wasn't going to happen, and why, and that "the surgeon said so." He looked in my mouth, asked me once again about false teeth, and changed the paper, which I signed. Then I had to go through a quiz with all the subsequent checkers about why the paper was changed.

What if I hadn't had been assertive? On the second surgery, I raised the issue but complied when the nurse anesthetist told me, basically, that if it hurt, I should tell her. People are intimidated in the hospital, and not inclined to argue much, especially when they've been given nice drugs in advance.

The operation either would have gone on, with the surgeon basically covering up the mistake hoping you didn't wake up and yell, "Get my lawyer." Or the operation would have been interrupted while the surgeon and the anesthiologist duked it out.

This is a highly rated hospital that has already done a lot of improvement work - it has a 30-minute guarantee in the ER, for example. They sent me home with a patient survey. Now they have the situation reported both verbally and in writing. But I doubt there will even be a meeting, much less an advance anesthesia verification (with the surgeon) added. After all, I'm just a patient and no harm was done.

Sep 1, 2006

Manufacturing pioneer Gene Merchant mourned

From an e-mail from SME: The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation lost a long time friend and supporter with the passing of M. Eugene Merchant, ScD on August 19, 2006. Dr. Merchant was a past president of SME, chaired the Foundation's Proposal Review Committee for over 20 years and in 1999 was named Honorary Director Emeritus of the Foundation.

Dr. Merchant's contribution to modern manufacturing is legendary. In the early 1940's he developed the basic theory of metal-cutting. His pioneering research made it easier for manufacturing engineers to determine the type of tooling needed to provide the optimum cut, how to regulate the amount of power needed to make a cut, and the effect on the metal's temperature. His theory has been used world wide and is still considered the best available for explaining and developing the machining process. His philosophy of computer-integrated manufacturing systems, developed in the 1950's, has become the standard operating practice for manufacturers all over the globe. To learn more about Dr. Merchant and his amazing career, read the article that appeared in Manufacturing Engineering Magazine, July 2004.

The SME Education Foundation has established an endowed scholarship in Dr. Merchant's memory. The scholarship will provide funding for future manufacturing engineers as well as serve as a lasting tribute to Dr. Merchant's pioneering research and discovery. Contributions to the M. Eugene Merchant Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made online or mailed to SME Education Foundation, One SME Drive, Box 930, Dearborn, MI 48121-0930.

Dr. Merchant is survived by his wife Helen, daughter Frances Sue Jacobson (Pontiac, IL), brother Robert Prescott Merchant (Lynchburg, VA), eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Aug 8, 2006

Extreme plant makeover - update from Richard Kunst

An event of this magnitude is difficult to facilitate and coordinate … but by the end of the week several very tired souls departed back to their respective organizations hopefully with their tool boxes just a bit fuller with new ideas and techniques.

The initial challenge is getting the support from the leaders in the organization who are always focused on getting their 100 tons of coal out each and every day.

An event like this takes a great amount of preparation weeks in advance. We were very fortunate to have Chris White our student intern available to capture ideas and opportunities into assignment sheets well in advance of the event.

To make the event successful you should embrace the event with a key strategic indicator, in our case increase throughput by 10% with existing resources. As you proceed with the data collection phase, you should be able to identify themes, opportunities and the ability prioritize the projects.

The event allowed leaders of the organization another method to see waste in their processes. In some cases inventory was creeping into key processes inhibiting throughput to the point the area was a constraint to regular production. It truly makes you wonder if traditional measures will insure focus on getting rid of the waste.

It was an exciting week and our outside eyes were wonderful with their commitment and energy. The event would not have been a success without the participation of our outside suppliers who provided great coaching clinics for our corporate champions. We were especially please that Rhonda Kovera from Visual Workplace decided to spend an extra day with the team for in depth training of her tools and general tricks on going beyond the traditional 5S and creating the true definition of a Visual Workplace, that is, Self Managing, Self Directing and Self Explaining.

We hope that what has been started will continue, the numbers will naturally follow. Cheers … Richard

Plant 19 forges ahead

When Richard Evans, Richard Kunst, Mariela Castaño, Patrick Hart, and Chris White did the walkthrough in Plant 19, they could see they were ahead of Plant 06. So Plant 06 got more of La-Z-Boy’s outside resources, while Plant 19 relied a little more on their own ingenuity to make improvements.

Charlotte Swafford, Cutting and Sewing Interim Manager, and Kathy Webb, Cutting Supervisor, concentrated on the cutting department and the sewing department.

The cutting department has automatic cutters, and the operators have kept their tools in a cabinet for years. Chris White took a picture that showed this was one thing that needed to be 5S-ed. Charlotte and Kathy decided to make that their project.

With the plant’s order backlog, Raymond had to run production at the same time as the team tackled his tool cabinet. Charlotte said the team spoke with Raymond about the plan Monday before they touched anything, giving him a day’s notice.

They let him know what they wanted to do – pull out the things in the cabinet, see how important they were, and get rid of the rest so he’d have visibility to his tools. Then he’d be able to go right to them, and not have to go through all the other things to look for what he needs.

Raymond’s been in cutting department for 32 years, running the automatic cutter since there was one. That’s given him time to accumulate quite a few things. Charlotte and Kathy found 25 standard Bostich staplers that probably had cost about $10 apiece. When a stapler quit working, the operators just threw them in the cabinet and got another.

Over the years, when maintenance worked on his machines and walked off and left things, he didn’t want to throw them away, so he just kept them. Kathy estimated that 85% of the stuff there belonged to maintenance. When all was said and done, a whole lot was given back to maintenance.

Once the cabinet was emptied Raymond only needed about five minutes to decide what he actually needed to do his job. Those items were laid aside, and the team made sure there was nothing else he needed.

When the tool cabinet project was done, he ended up with about 20 items, including a drop cord, a knife blade, and the tools he needed for changeout. The old wooden cabinet’s empty so it’s going away. A new creform cabinet was designed to take its place.

The team thought Raymond appreciated their work after they were finished, and expected him to especially like the new cabinet.

Not everything went so well. The new creform cabinet had been expected at 9:30 that morning. By 1:45 that afternoon, it still hadn’t arrived.

The new cabinet would have “shadows” for the required tools. This is an aspect of transforming Plant 19 into a visual workplace. Kathy and Charlotte, went through training led by Rhonda Kovera of the Visual Factory company, so they were ready to spec out pegboards and shadows.

While sorting through the cutting workstations, Charlotte and Kathy found a number of cutting machine blades, worth $120 apiece. The blades should last 20 hours on the machine. The operators said some of them do, but many don’t. The defective blades can be returned to the supplier for credit, so a kanban system will be set up to identify them and start claiming the money due. The blades are used on several cutters, so the money due could be considerable.

In the sewing area, sets of pillows are cut, sewn, stuffed, and shipped. That work is done in a mini-cell. The team cleaned up around it, and planned to make a couple of creform cabinets to replace the old wood ones there.

One employee caught the spirit and built a broom holder. That might sound like a small thing, but it would never happen in most traditionally-managed plants. Everyone would now know where to find the broom, and whether it was missing. The employee had the satisfaction of making a device that would eliminate the waste of searching for a broom from then on.

Ronnie Angel is in charge of the traditional upholstery line in the plant. He’s been there 19 years, so he knows what things were like before lean practices began to be implemented. He’s also been part of making lean changes and improvements happen.

The upholstery line must handle a complex product mix. With about 1,400 different fabrics and 47 different styles, that means 65,800 different configurations must be managed to meet the customer’s expectations.

Ronnie’s team was attacking some of the areas that were creating defects, sorting and standardizing. They had decided to make Lines 11 and 12 pilot lines, where they would make initial improvements before implementing change all the way across the other upholstery lines. It’s culture change, in Ronnie’s words. He was preparing the operators, getting them to break old habits.

For example, aisle ways had been cleared, but ensuring that they stayed that way was going to take enforcement, backed up by management commitment.

Jason Smith was putting his main focus on Plant 19’s poly department. After the first class, they came through the department with a trash bin. By the time they finished, the load reached six feet high.

Then they started red-tagging equipment, with a total of 13 unneeded items sent to the boneyard by the end of the day. That might not seem like a remarkable number, but it followed a red-tagging sweep held about two months before.

Next, Jason’s team would go back to different operators’ workstations to start adding the tool pegboards and other devices. As in the other parts of the facility, the operators were working the entire time the 5S activities had been taking place.

Jason said they had a lot of buy-in from the operators. They liked the tool stations. But Jason agreed with Ronnie that management was going to have to enforce rules like the shadows, and see that the operators put all items in place before they leave at the end of each shift.

Sustaining gains made in blitz events is tough in any company. One thing La-Z-Boy is doing is to implement total productive maintenance (TPM). At the cutting, poly and sewing machines, operators have TPM checklists, which include 5S tasks, that they fill out daily. Some of this equipment represents a large dollar investment, and they need the general maintenance done by the employee every day.

All four of the 5S champions agreed that sorting out the old, unused, and excess stuff -- anything not used in the last six months -- was the highlight of the blitz. Across all the areas of Plant 19, the red-tag total was up to 60 to 70 items.

Richard Kunst reflected on the progress made by the folks in plant 19. “From my perspective, I think that this particular facility has turned the corner, they get it, they’re engaged. I think by the end of the week that we won’t recognize it, so I’m just hoping that – I honestly believe this activity is not going to stop now.”

By being on-site, Richard learned that the tools and materials for making toolboards, labels and other things needed for the visual workplace in Plant19 were in Plant 06, some distance away. Now each plant has its own label-making machine and will soon have its own workshop.

Not having the ability to build their own things had been holding back improvement. Ronnie had come up with the concept of having a cart with a unit’s components follow it down the line. But he was still waiting after seven months for the creform carts to be built. Ronnie was frustrated because he wasn’t meeting his production plan, and he wasn’t able to implement an improvement that would have increased throughput. It showed Richard that management had to provide the tools to make people less dependent on others when they want to go and make change. La-Z-Boy is doing it improve production and to make our employees happier too.

Being empowered to create an improvement does affect the way people feel about their jobs. Charlotte said the guy from cutting who went to the creform class was really excited about making the broom holder. He’d said to Kathy and Charlotte, “Come let me show you what I made you.” He was proud.

Ronnie talked about how that would have happened in the past. The employee would have had to create a drawing, submit it -- it might even be outsourced somewhere else to have it made. Now, he said, you could easily go to your own materials. You’re limited only by your imagination. You can create something. You can solve the problem. You’ve got the power.

Through its continuous improvement program, La-Z-Boy was freeing people up so they could make the improvements they’d only thought about before. They’d learned they can get things just by asking. But they have to ask. And they have to ask the right people. La-Z-Boy knows it still has to improve and remove more barriers to change.

Richard Kunst commented further about the preparation for the week’s improvement. A student intern, Chris White, and been working on site for almost a month to lay the groundwork. Chris had spent two terms learning about 5S and other lean principles from Mariela Castaño at Nestle in Canada. As Richard said, that means he knows what 5S has to look like.

Chris had identified a lot of the problem areas, taken a lot of photos, and made assignment sheets. The employees said the assignment sheets gave them something they could understand and implement instead of having to trying to figure out what to do. It was a good jump point. The coaches and the employees appreciated the effort Chris had made to get them ready.

Another key player was Rhonda Kovera, who was teaching how to make the factory visual. Passionate about the technique, she brings her idea book with her, and shows employees how to generate labels, how to scan pictures in. Her video of what had been done at La-Z-Boy’s Tremonton facility energized everyone about what they could do.

The learning and excitement at Plant 19 wasn’t limited to the folks on the day shift. Yancy Allen, the second shift supervisor, showed up hours before the start of work that day. He said that three second-shift supervisors had been taking part in the blitz that week. The folks on the later shift wanted to make sure they got the knowledge to take back with them to help sustain the efforts they had also been making.

As Richard saw it, people were now getting past the dirty jobs of pulling out junk and cleaning equipment and starting to have fun.

Aug 3, 2006

The La-Z-Boy extreme plant makeover - the poly room

What follows is a draft of a report based on interviews with participants in almost real-time. There are missing details, and some facts in need of correction, but I am posting it now to make it accessible quickly. So don’t quote me, and don’t hesitate to use “comments” to point out necessary changes. KW

The La-Z-Boy Extreme Makeover 5S Blitz opened July 31, with 22 people at the Dayton, TN, plant. They came from six La-Z-Boy plants – and a couple more from AME and SME.

Over the weekend, in preparation, a walkthrough by Richard Kunst, Richard Evans, Mariela Castaño, Chris White, and the Dayton plant’s CI manager, Patrick Hart, revealed that 5S’ing the whole of Plant 06 would be too large a task, so the scope there changed from the whole plant to just the poly room.

Plant 19, the other location slated for work, was in better shape than the team expected. There, teams will get into the later stages of 5S – set-in-order, shine and standardize – a little ahead of schedule.

The poly room
The poly room in Plant 06 is where polyurethane foam – used to stuff the chairs – is cut. Parts are made for a couple of hundred different furniture styles from a half dozen different types of foam. A petroleum-based foam, its price went up about 50% last year, when Hurricane Rita damaged a supplier’s facilities. It’s the most expensive material in the chairs, making the poly room a good area to focus on.

After training on Monday, Tuesday was spent getting rid of a lot of scrap, getting FIFO lanes in place for all the groups of saws, getting the workstations clean, and getting the machines clean so it’s easy to identify when there’s something wrong with them.

By the end of the day, teams had removed:

Four tractor-trailer-loads of remnant poly.
Seven 3-cu. meter hoppers full of garbage,
94 red-tagged items, including
metal rails,
extra rolls of material,
vacuum pumps, and
one “metal thingamajig.”

They wrote up 23 maintenance work orders, and identified four major safety issues.

The “foot soldiers” found the day very labor-intensive. While they may have thought they’d be observers, they liked that it was not what they expected.

The improvement work in the poly room was divided over four areas:
1. The receiving area where the polyurethane pieces, called bunts, come in
2. The main blocking saws that cut them up into smaller pieces
3. The baumer saws and the glue booths where poly pieces are assembled
4. The storage areas.

Karen Van Den Bloomer, Productivity Specialist at Plexus in Neenah, WI, worked in the storage area, and where fiber bats are wrapped around the poly and cut. Her team first went through and picked up the obvious garbage laying around, things that even the workers couldn’t identify. When something’s been just sitting somewhere for a long time, there’s a tendency to just leave it there. So the team just red-tagged them and got them out of the way.

Then they started cleaning. During the cleaning they found a lot of opportunities for making things easier for the workers—hanging tools up, for example. They put in some requests to get pegboards and containers for necessary items.

Then the “super-clean” started. As Chris White explained, between the first S – Sort, and the second - Set-in-order, La-Z-Boy sees a hidden S - Super-clean. That means before you put things where they’re going to go, everything is in a clean state, so you don’t have to sweep it up afterward. Karen said there was about a half-inch of dust on top of light fixtures and vents, so they got ladders and started scrubbing.

She said the employees were happy there were people actually wanting to make things better. They pitched in and helped clean when they could, although they had to keep production moving.

Employees told Karen they’d been trying to do something for a while, but every time they tried, they just didn’t get the support. So to see something established made them feel good. It gave them a standard they were expected to keep.

With all the accumulated junk gone from under the tables, it was going to be much easier just to sweep up at the end of the day.

Baumers and blades
Jennifer Noble, from the La-Z-Boy Tremonton, UT, plant, worked in zone two, the saws and the baumers, going through similar steps. The first day they red-tagged 68 items, plus five the next day. She said there was just stuff everywhere. Because it was just easier, employees put things under the machines, including things like blades that were safety hazards. It wasn’t that they were lazy. They just didn’t have the resources. Jennifer said they borrowed her gloves just to take the blades away from under the machines.

The blades were supposed to be discarded in covered container in a relatively distant location, so Jen’s team got some tubs to put under the machines. The used blades could then be easily stowed in a safe container that could be emptied regularly.

They also did a super-clean in the baumer area. There were a few storage bins there, so they emptied them and swept them out. One of the team members suggested that they put small racks there that that they could clean more easily. Jen said the people on the floor were awesome. They helped whenever they were needed.

The glue booth
The glue booth is where slabs of remnant poly of similar density, not big enough to make a complete bunt, are glued together to make another bunt. It can then be cut up into more parts.

The booth is a 10- or 12-foot cube. A person works within it applying glue. It was completely covered in glue -- pieces of it hanging everywhere. Pieces of poly hanging everywhere as well.

The workers tried to protect the walls of the booth with cardboard, but it was difficult to fasten there and to remove. The proposed solution is to put Velcro all along the outside edges of each wall and ceiling, then to tack a sort of matting to the walls with the Velcro. The matting is very cheap stuff. To clean up, workers will just tear the matting off and throw it away. It will be much easier to maintain the cleanliness of the booth.

Jul 31, 2006

Lean Thoughts

It is the eve of our week long “Extreme Plant Makeover” blitz at our LZB Dayton TN Campus. The coordinating team has been working hard for several weeks getting the agenda prepared and all of the assignments identified.

We know the event will be exciting and will provide our champions opportunities to share best practices, leverage resources and learn together during the week-long journey. We are excited that several of our key suppliers will be providing intensive coaching clinics during the week. In some areas, we may not get the extreme results, but if we can create Vision, Mission and a good jump-start on integrating or 5S+1 desires with our VSM identified projects … we will be more than satisfied.

This week you will be able to follow the progress of the event by logging daily --maybe even hourly -- onto this blog. We will be posting victories, accomplishments and challenges complete with pictures. So if you were not able to be here … there is an opportunity to attend and participate virtually.

-- Richard Kunst

Jul 29, 2006

5S coaches/champions get a preview of the blitz

This is the text of a letter sent by Don Butcher, VP, La-Z-Boy Dayton plant, to key members of the blitz team...

Congratulations! You have been selected to be a 5S Coach and a Champion in our 5S+1 Makeover Blitz during the week of July 31st – August 4th.

During the next week, we will be conducting 5S cleaning and organizing activities with the help and support of 5S Champions throughout the division, as well as numerous other guests and Lean experts. The project will be facilitated by Richard Kunst, Patrick Hart, and Chris White of La-Z-Boy Continuous Improvement, and Richard Evans, of the Canadian-based company Messier-Dowty.

During the week you will be participating in a wide variety of training sessions and workshops, each designed to enhance your knowledge of 5S+1 and visual systems, and expose you to the various tools and products we have to assist you, and all of our employees in our planned 5S+1 transformation. You will also be asked to conduct a 5-minute 5S tutorial with employees in your area each day, and to assist in the implementation of “5S projects” in your area as time and work schedules permit. Each one of the projects is designed to reduce waste and eliminate clutter, and all of the projects will take only one man-hour per person in that area.

In addition to our own La-Z-Boy Dayton employees, a team of outside eyes (and hands) will be helping transform some of our departments in need of attention into safe, clean, and effective workspaces.

• Have all our 5S Champions trained in 5S and its benefits and practicing 5S on a daily basis.
• 10% throughput improvement.
• Elimination of safety hazards
• A clean work environment, better organization, and more space
• Less searching for tools and parts
• Develop simple easy-to-follow work instructions
• Train 5S Coaches in 5S+1 methodologies, Visual workplace, Visual Work Instructions and Total Productive Maintenance
• Have 5S Coaches conduct tutorials with plant employees for a 5-minute period each day during the blitz, with one of the S’s conducted each day
• Maintain 5-minute 5S activities after the event
• Have 5S Coaches (with the help of facilitators and outside eyes) direct employees in their area in 1-hour per person 5S assignments (time and schedule permitting)
• Have outside eyes and visitors conduct “Intensive Care” 5S activities in 8 areas of the Dayton campus: (06: Poly, Cells, Upholstery Stocking, WSC, MSC; 19: Poly, Cells, Cutting)

The purpose of the 5S Makeover Blitz is to remove unnecessary materials and items, and improve process and material flow, and overall efficiency. 5S activities also aim to reduce safety hazards and create a clean, professional working environment for all La-Z-Boy employees.

The project will take place of the course of 1 week, but the 5S effort will continue always. The training sessions will last from ½ an hour to 2 hours depending on the date. The week will begin with an introduction to 5S+1, July 31st @ the Plant 06 and Plant 19 large Conference rooms. The event will be exciting and fast-paced; focusing on real time implementation of all our ideas, so come dressed appropriately (jeans, t-shirt, and comfortable shoes).

Myself, I will be in attendance during the training and helping out during the event. I am very excited about that. This process offers you an opportunity and a mechanism to capture and incorporate all the creative ideas that you have to offer. Rise to the challenge, and do not forget that your commitment, support and participation are what will enable our company and our people to benefit from this effort.

Once again, I congratulate you on your selection. I am looking forward to working with you and receiving your usual fine effort in getting the job done.

Don Butcher
Vice President La-Z-Boy Dayton Plant

Jul 27, 2006

Richard K. -- More about the Dayton plant

Hurricanes and tornadoes have put the Dayton (TN) La-Z-Boy plant in a catch-up situation. Last year’s hurricane affected the supply of an ingredient in the foam we use in our chairs. It’s made in a plant just outside New Orleans that was destroyed by Katrina. It was under eight feet of water.

Worse, it is one of only two facilities worldwide that produces that chemical. That put us on 50% allocation for foam, and we weren’t able to make all the chairs we had orders for.

Then we had a tornado in Newton (IA) that hit our plywood plant, putting it out of commission for a while. The plant supplies all the plywood to all our plants, adding to our problems at Dayton.

So we’re still churning our way through a huge backlog of orders, just scrambling to get furniture out and satisfy our customers.

Dayton is a small town, and we have about 2,000 employees -- about 2/3 of the local workforce. It’s hard to find people, so the load on our workforce is heavy. If we can increase throughput by 10% without needing any more workers, that will make a big difference.

You’ve got to realize we were very passionately embracing lean prior to this. Two years ago La-Z-Boy embarked on its lean journey, moving from batch and queue to cellular manufacturing. The Dayton (TN) plant is about 25% of the way. To finance the cell conversion, however, the more traditional processes need to be profitable. That is why we're going back to make them more lean.

Having this “extreme plant makeover” in Dayton will give us a forum to train La-Z-Boy 5S champions in one location. Our folks have been playing with the lean tools for awhile now, but they need to get to the next level of professionalism.

Because of our need for throughput, we didn’t want to divert too many resources from daily production. We decided to bring in outside people to help. We asked suppliers to come in and give us some tricks. In addition, there are about 20 sets of volunteer “outside eyes” coming. Two plant managers are coming of their own volition. That alone is sending a huge acknowledgement that they see value in enhancing their own facilities and think this model might work for them.

Getting everyone together can start them sharing ideas and establishing e-mail contacts. We need people to exchange implementation experience so nobody has to reinvent things as we’re going forward. We might use something like this blog if people start using it.

The event will also be accelerating our journey to cellular manufacturing, which is probably going to take another year. We don’t have the resources to go completely cellular throughout all our facilities.

The 5S program will have three tracks – supplier coach clinics, areas for intensive care, and quick projects for the general population. We plan to do one “S” per day, beginning with a simulation to train all the salaried employees and the outside folks. It will create a common datum and understanding of 5S as it relates to La-Z-Boy. In the intensive care processes, we expect a 4 to 1 ROI by increasing throughput through workplace organization.

To me, 5S is not just housekeeping. While it starts with workplace organization, it branches off into most of the lean tools. As we go, it might happen that some folks decide they want to put in a kanban system. We want to be able to immediately teach them how to do it. That’s where the “satellite teaches” come in.

We may or may not hold a contest. We’ll see how the week progresses and decide then. At La-Z-Boy, we don’t use contests for competition between departments or people. They are about recognizing employees and best practices.

It’s more like: “Look at what these guys are doing. This is awesome -- how do we publicize it?” We create the recognition and take pictures and hopefully that starts cross-pollination of a best practice, particularly in these very large plants where employees don’t migrate through the entire facility.

We’re finding that we’ve got to spend a lot of time on the preparatory phase, defining projects we want people to deliver, or it’s not going to happen. Chris White, the on-site event coordinator, has spent nearly 1,100 man hours taking pictures and identifying projects.

Then we want to do everything we can to sustain the progress. That’s why we’re training the supervisors with the simulation. The TPM (total productive maintenance) teach is another way to sustain. It gives us a checklist to ensure that once we have made the changes, we know how we are keep them in place?

It’s pretty exciting stuff. We’re just going to roll with it and see what happens. If this model works, we’re definitely going to look at deploying it in other plants.
-- Richard Kunst

Jul 24, 2006

Extreme plant makeover - a diary

It started when Richard Kunst, VP for Continuous Improvement at La-Z-Boy’s Residential Group, issued the following invitation to readers of his July 3rd e-newsletter, “Lean Thoughts”:

We need your assistance to enhance and improve our Dayton Tennessee facility. This will be a one week long learning experience where the model is simply “LEARN, LEAN and APPLY”. We are planning to host the event in the week commencing July 31, 2006. Come and participate to help accelerate the conversion towards world-class at this facility. This goes beyond traditional 5S, we need help implementing FIFO lanes, Supermarkets, Kan Ban systems, Pokeyoke, Visuals, the list goes on …

The Dayton La-Z-Boy campus has 25 acres under roof and contains 4 factories (2 upholstery facilities, a wood supply centre and a metal supply centre). We employ over 2000 employees, all of whom are committed change agents and passionate about positive change. Wanna have fun and learn at the same time? Why not schedule your vacation and attend the event at the same time?

Why the need?
The journey has already started at the facility. All of the critical Value Streams have been mapped and exciting projects have been identified. Quite frankly, our through-put capability is not sufficient to satisfy our customer demand. Our folks are tired from working 6 days per week and we cannot recruit and train folks fast enough to satisfy our capacity requirements. They NEED YOU !!!

The Vision
We are already working hard to develop our homework assignments across the campus. We are hoping that at the conclusion of our workshop week that we will be able to increase through-put by at least 10% and dramatically reduce our supporting inventory.

We think that this venue will be an excellent opportunity to network and leverage the tools we have developed within the consortium. Just think you can personally contribute to making a North American industry sector not only survive but thrive. As we continue to develop the agenda we will be inviting in suppliers … so you can learn from them and try their products.

What you are going to find is a great Lead Team on the site that is welcome a receptive to new ideas. They are a genuinely hospitable group and a great joy to work with. They truly understand the challenges of today’s economy and the need for change. In essence I am hoping to make this a working conference … you have all attended conferences and heard the “Rags to Riches” stories and even stolen some great ideas … now is your chance to implement sustainable change.

We are working on some additional surprises that will benefit all of us. Each day we will begin with a short training session and then be dispatched to apply our learning’s. At the conclusion of the day, we will host a de-brief to communicate our success and benchmark best practices

Starts at the top ,right? We have it. Many of the senior leaders of the corporation will be parking their titles for a week and donning coveralls to assist our folks in this exciting transformation. Don Butcher, the campus Leader, has committed that each employee will commit 1 hour of their time during the week towards the Extreme Plant Makeover. Our challenge is to not impact current production... remember, we are capacity constrained

With over 2000 employees and 25 acres under roof you can realize the challenge I am going face in doing this facilitation. I am asking you to help facilitate, learn, assist in implementation and have fun while at the same time helping one the most well recognized brand names blossom. Just imagine the impact of change you can deliver.

“Lean Reflections” will be acting as a collection point for experiences throughout the week’s event. Participants at Dayton, as well as folks from La-Z-Boy’s other facilities will be able to tap into the excitement. We hope regular readers will comment and add their expertise. You can contact Richard at

Jul 19, 2006

Don't make me think!

That’s Krug’s Law, and the title Steve Krug’s irreverent book about web usability. If you have a web site, this little book (181 pages) could make a big difference. It could also help you improve standard work documents, visual controls and building signage.

Steve doesn’t call it the gemba, but he knows where to find it. Right next to the user trying to get something done on your site. Conference-room debates about what the “average user” will do are about as worthwhile as what the “average worker” will do, or how the “average part” will go through a process.

Web designers create waste when they don’t understand “eye paths,” what a person does when encountering a web page, brochure, or printed instructions. People don’t start at the top left corner and read down each column from left to right.

They scan, zig-zagging down the page to see if there’s anything there they care about. There are visual dead spots, like the upper right-hand corner and the lower left. Steve shows how to make a visual hierarchy that telegraphs how the page’s information is structured. What happens when someone sees your web site or powerpoint presentation?

Krug’s “second law of writing for the web” (or anything else) is …
You’d be surprised at how many needless words we use – OK in conversation – but waste in writing that must convey information fast. Here’s a game I like to play using the word-count function in Microsoft Word’s tools. Take a piece of writing and cut it by 20%, then go back a week later and cut 20% more.

Steve’s book is visual, with a big investment in color printing and pictures of real web pages. The “before” and “after” examples are eye-opening. Steve reveals the principles of good navigation – also applicable to where to put your andon boards, or other plant visuals.

[I just cut the text above from 381 words and 1775 characters to 318 words and 1519 characters – only about 15%, but I added a thought. Hey- I went back and got two more without even trying.]

So get the book, and tell me what you think. Don’t make me think

Jul 11, 2006

String-savin' granddad

Granddaddy ran a tool crib at a Chrysler assembly plant back in the day. Here's what he had to say about some tough times and cut-backs...

“The white collar experts decree that our main cribs of supplies maintain stock on a 30-day basis. Anything not called for in 30 days is gone, so as it falls to all of us accumulators, I have more and more visitors as perfectly good tools and equipment are taken away.

“A sample – I take a rec to tool crib for 50 3/8-in. dia steel balls. They have been sent to storage because they were not needed in the last 30 days. I go to Storage, but not knowing the Commodity Number, perhaps something like QST 795-6021-5 LA, I refrain from raising the roof and get a couple of new ball bearings and wreck them for the needed balls. Soon there will be more new bearings bought for me to bust.

“Often though, they ask me what I want with certain items and I will not tell them so am refused. This conjures up a bit of doing but like the bearings, there are always things to break up and the scrap pile about a mile out in the back is not closed to me.

“Two guys who repair the portable tools have to get recs signed by three people before they can use the dowels, gears, etc, that they already have in their cribs. When they run out, due to ordering delay and summary cancellations, they come to me for things.

“An old garbage-scanner and string-saver like me must constantly look over his properties so that when the other departments send their men on emergency errands to me they get quick and agreeable service." - J .R. McWhorter, December 4, 1960

Sounds absurd, but if you did some close observation in your plant, would you find similar hoards and workarounds? What about the beautiful red tool chests the shop-floor people don’t want to give up? When people can count on getting what they need quickly, there’s no need for storage.

When “white-collar” guys and gals make “decrees” about things like how much stock to keep and how to control decisions about what gets released to those who need it, they frustrate and demean people who know what they need to get the job done. Yes, everyone wants to save money and get to zero inventory, but some situations call for buffers and back-ups until the reasons for them have been cleared up.

In the office too. Dianna and Faith, along with some other SME folks, have been clearing out those departmental office-supply stashes - there are enough staples, paper clips and sundry other items to supply the Army for a year. Hmm...the Army? More like a couple of hours - but you get the drift. Staples (the store) or Office Depot can get you anything you need the next day, so you don't need much of a buffer. No kanbans for the supplies yet, but they'll be introduced soon.

Jul 6, 2006

Lean laundry

A lot of people hate doing the laundry, but I like seeing the results.

Time vs. kilowatt hours
It was a slogan created by the wife of a Delmarva Power and Light executive during the oil crisis of the 1970s: “Use your solar dryer.” Is this an example of lean? It takes more time to hang clothes on the line than to move them from the washer to the dryer. More labor too. And space, since you need a dryer for winter and rainy days.

What would I be doing if I weren’t hanging out the clothes? Working? Reading or watching TV? Hanging up laundry gets me out of the house for some fresh air and mild exercise. I save an infinitesimal amount of otherwise-squandered fossil fuel. Sheets and towels get that line-dried crispness and fresh-air smell.

Space? A piece of PVC pipe is planted in the dirt, and holds the base of the drying thing when it’s in use.

My clotheslines are mounted on an umbrella-like folding contraption that lives in the garage.

The invaluable “sock lock”
Whoever invented this humble, handy and hard-to-find device ought to get the Nobel Prize. It does away with the “missing sock” problem and time-wasting sock-sorting. When you take off your socks, you hook them together with the sock lock. They go from hamper to washer to dryer then back to the dresser. Your fresh socks are right there, still locked together.

Mike insisted I include this one
Yes, you can be married to a man for 27 years and not know everything about him. I didn’t know that every time I put his clean underwear in his dresser, Mike took it back out and stacked it in his version of an efficient presentation. The underwear can’t be inside out, and it has to be stacked with the front side up. The waistband is oriented toward the wearer. So, when he rolls out of bed late, he can grab the top pair, have it perfectly oriented in front of him, and step right into it.

Lean at home often amounts to trivial gains. Yet it helps keep the habit of seeing lean opportunities everywhere.

Jun 24, 2006

AT&T - 99% waste

Thursday night, June 22, 2006, I attempted to use my dialup internet connection and it told me the phone had no dial tone. Sometimes that is because Mike is online in his lair, but he was on the couch with me at the time. (Not engaged in planning for getting a high-speed wireless internet system in the house.) He said his machine wasn’t online.

I called AT&T and after a series of voice menus, (the first was so funny that I recommend calling 800-244-4444 just to listen to the guy), I was able to log my problem (automated). I got the automatic "commitment" that it would be fixed by 8pm Saturday.

In line with the expected absurdity of voice-mail routing, I had to enter my phone number at two different menus. Sometimes I could only “say” what was wrong and go through a couple of rounds like “It sounds like you are saying…” After the system got it clear that I had no dial tone, it asked if I was calling from that phone now. Duh!!!….

Several months ago, also on a Thursday night, the same thing happened. It was not until Tuesday that service was restored and that was only after had had length conversations with hapless phone company employees and filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Friday morning I called AT&T from work to say that I expected my phone to be fixed by 3pm that day or I would file another complaint with the MPSC. I spoke to Jody, who could only repeat the script she normally used. She had to ask me a bunch of questions because “Michael” is the account holder. Two questions could be answered from looking at the bill, which was at home. The third was to give the last four digits of Michael’s “social,” by which I assumed she meant his Social Security number. This I refused to do and I decided that was the point at which to talk to her supervisor. Sharon, the supervisor, explained that the requirement for the personal data was AT&T’s new “privacy policy.” Sharon said she could not let me talk to a manager, so I relented and she was able to get to the account. Then she told me she was in the billing department, not the repair department and didn’t know why the call had gone there.

That could have been because I was fed up with the voice menus and pushed the “0” key until I got to a person.

Sharon connected me with Todd in the repair department. I told Todd my saga, and asked to speak to his supervisor, but he couldn’t do that. Todd eventually agreed to contact the dispatcher and was told the technicians were completely booked up for the day and had me scheduled for Saturday. Todd wasn’t allowed to let me talk to the dispatcher. Todd reminded me that I’d have to pay $71 if the technician had to enter my house.

I apologized to Todd for barking at him, since he certainly wasn’t responsible for the situation. When I asked him if there was anything else he could tell me that might help, he revealed a little secret for determining if the problem was in my house (making it my problem, not theirs) or outside. There’s a gray box on the back of the house where the lines connect – your “interface.” You can flip it open and plug in a corded phone. If no dial tone, the problem belonged to them.

I actually drove home, found a phone with a cord, and took it outside. The box was well surrounded by my lilac bush. Actually there were three gray boxes. One would flip open, but it didn’t have any phone jack I could see. The others were held closed by screws. I know nothing about circuitry and want to retain my ignorance, and also didn’t want to break something so I gave up on diagnosing the zone of responsibility. Turns out you can actually do that - after Mike came home from work, he unscrewed the "customer access" box, opened it, and plugged in the phone cord. No dial tone. That gives you the dubious satisfaction of knowing you were right about it being their problem, not yours.

Back at work, considering that I had gone through the same rigamarole in my last incident, I went online and complained to the MPSC. In my complaint – more or less what I’ve written here – I said I considered it unacceptable that a company can lay off thousands of workers (probably including repair technicians) while maintaining high executive salaries and other wasteful expenses. As a public service, the company must be able to service customers in a timely manner. I was wasting hours of my time on the phone company's unacceptable problem. As for repair within 48 hours, isn’t having a working phone a matter of life or death sometimes?

Saturday morning, we saw a burly guy in our backyard. He did some testing, then replaced the line from the house to the pole, did some stuff up on the pole, drove away, drove back, did some more stuff. Then, at about 1 pm, the phone rang. It was Louis, the technician, to ask if he sounded OK on the line – and obviously it was working. I thanked Louis for his hard work, which sounded like that was a rarity for him. So he gave me his cell phone number, in case I had any more trouble.

It’s not the Louises, Todds, Sharons and Jodys of the company that cause the terrible waste that we pay AT&T for. They do what they are required to do, and take the flack from the customers. No big guys get interrupted in a meeting to take my call. No IT women have to stop creating overly complex systems to listen to my trouble. No “customer service” managers creating absurd voice menus have to actually talk to me. (Think about it – they are being paid big bucks to make sure nobody actually has to talk to me.) Todd, Sharon and Jody could only tell me how limited they were in their ability to help me. They could only tell me they understood my frustration. The gist of each conversation was that AT&T had to operate the way AT&T operated.

It was all about me understanding AT&T’s problems. Guess what -- I don't care.Wait a minute – this is 100% waste. My whole wait was about queue time. AT&T could have more technicians. AT&T could have a night shift. AT&T could do preventive maintenance. Too costly? They’d just spent a bunch of money dealing with my lack of patience, defending themselves against a customer explaining her needs. Having more technicians would mean fewer customer service reps.

There was even more waste in the department that has to defend the company against the Michigan Public Service Commission. More waste in even needing the Michigan Public Service Commission to defend customers who have to deal with the phone company’s waste.

I’m sure you can envision budget season the same way I do. Repair has to cut expenses by 10%. Customer service cites a growing number of calls and gets a 10% increase in their budget. The legal department can’t cut back because of customers who fight back through their state public utility regulators. Company executives go to the Board of Directors and promise to cut expenses by laying off another few thousand employees, and corporate communications sends out a press release to pacify stock analysts.

And your phone doesn’t have a dial tone.

Jun 5, 2006

Parking poka-yoke

(Inspired by the "Everyday Lean" contest on the Lean Blog.)

A two-car garage is a bit of a squeeze if you actually try to fit two cars into it, even if they’re small. One of us has to back her car in, while the other pulls his car in front-first. Unlike my husband who, having been born and raised in Detroit, has a physical sense of where his car’s wheels, bumpers and sheet-metal are whenever he is driving or parking, I’m always too close to or too far away from things when I park.

If I don’t pull far enough into the garage, I can’t close the garage door. If I pull in too far, I can’t get through the door into the house. If I’m too close to the side of the garage, I break the mirror off as I back in. Too far away and neither of us can get out of our cars. It drove my husband crazy.

One day, I thought about the 5S shadow-board. I moved the car up and back until I had the perfect fore-and-aft position, and the distance away from the wall was acceptable. Then I sighted a couple of locations from the driver’s seat, took a magic marker, and drew indicators on the wall showing where I had to locate the car when pulling in.

This was a big help, but didn’t address the problem of hitting the prescribed distance from the wall. Then I remembered a drive-through car wash I used to visit that had a rubber ball suspended from the ceiling, with a sign nearby that said to put your car in gear when your windshield bumped it.

It occurred to me that if there were a similar ball suspended from the garage ceiling that I’d only touch if I was in the perfect front-and-back and side-to-side position, the whole problem might be solved. I don’t do any physical maintenance tasks at home, so I had to persuade Mike that it was an idea with merit. Eventually he agreed to perform the experiment, and now sees its wisdom. The constant worry that I might not properly park the car is off his mind.

The only disadvantage I can think of is if you had a ten-year-old kid at home. It would only be a matter of time before there’d be the day when the car was out of the garage and he or she would be compelled to swing at it with some bat-like object so it would fly off and break something. Aaah, one more benefit of having already paid for college and sent the offspring off on his own. The tether ball is likely to remain unmolested. Don’t send your kid to my house, please.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm