Dec 24, 2007

teensy lean action taken for gift giving

Well, it's Christmas Eve and time for the frenzy of shopping to stop and the frenzy of giving and receiving gifts to start. Now that we're both retired, Mike and I agreed we'd cut down on the number of gifts we buy each other, and we made charitable donations in the names of many of the adults on our gift list. We're at the time of our lives when we really don't need more stuff. Our son and daughter-in-law are in Beijing today, part of their four-month study visit to China. We gave them some tiny inexpensive things to open today, but sending anything is too expensive.

We bought fewer gifts for the younger nieces and nephews, but they're not likely to notice at the family party. Usually there is chaos and none of them know who gave them what, frustrating the moms trying to teach them to make proper thank-yous.

However, last night I noticed that Mike had quite a few more gifts under the tree for me than I had for him. I pondered where I could go to shop without getting an anxiety attack, and looked in a few flyers for ideas. (Mike's report is that Target's throughput at the checkouts was excellent, and Macy's had plenty of pleasant salespeople available on Tuesday.)

We are the kind of people who live surrounded by too much inventory. Mike has full-pantry syndrome from having grown up in a family with eight kids and limited money for groceries. We probably have some things we brought with us when we moved into this house 13 years ago, although once we went through and threw out anything that was too old to have a bar code. I know there are piles of unopened dress shirts in his closet.

So it came to me -- there must be some nice food gifts around that he'd forgotten about. Hmm... let's take a look. Yes, there are several bottles of premium scotch in the liquor cabinet from some buying sprees at Merchant of Vino and Sam's Wines. Ahh -- how about a nice bottle of Lagavullan. On to the pantry. Way back on the shelf with all the condiments. Some Chesapeake Bay hot sauce? No, he'd know we haven't been there for years. The date on the label is 2000. Here we go -- a pretty jar of lavender honey from Lulu's in San Francisco. I can't use the dress shirts since he doesn't wear them anymore; that would give away the game.

Now parity is more or less established and I made a couple of lean decisions as well. This could be kind of fun as a family challenge. You could have piles of forgotten toys, baseballs, or boxes of macaroni to open on Christmas Day and not add to waste at all.

I've heard of people who "re-gift." We all have the gifts we've put aside over the years because they are just not things we use or like. There's some stigma to sneakily passing an old gift off as a new one, especially embarrassing if it goes to the original giver, but if it was all in fun, why not? And kids under the age of four or five usually have lots of things they've forgotten they own, because they've been showered with birthday and holiday gifts. You could probably get away with recycling some of those things too.

I'm not good at keeping secrets so I'll probably let him know what I did. But didn't your mother always tell you, "It's the thought that counts."

One more thing - Our western Christian culture overwhelms all others so that Christmas is way more visible than the recent Eid, the month of the Hajj, Hanukkah, Buddhist, Hindu, and various midwinter festivals of other religions. The timing of Christmas is actually overlaid on old pagan winter festivals. There are agnostics and non-observers who don't mind having fun on December 25. And there are atheists who are annoyed by the religious aspects.

So I'll acknowledge the fact that our western European attitudes can betray a cultural arrogance, and send my best wishes to all people of any or no faith for a day of peace and hope. Just because.

Dec 20, 2007

Check it off

To echo several other bloggers, you must read an article by Atul Gawande in one of the December issues of the New Yorker, The Checklist. It's not going to surprise anyone who has the first idea about standard work or mistake proofing, but it's illustrative of a couple of things. First, in medicine (or getting what you ordered at the drive-thru, or the financial assistance you may be entitled to if you're homeless), all the technology and off-the-chart IQs can't take the place of a simple checklist. And that such an idea has penetrated so little into what people do every day. I've got nothing enlightening to say on the subject. Read the article.

One-day university admission

The University of Michigan-Dearborn has found a way for a student to spend one day and get through all the steps of choosing a college. This includes:

- Complete an application
- Meet with an undergraduate admissions counselor
- Receive an evaluation of your transcripts
- On-site transfer credit evaluation
- Find out about community college transfer scholarships
- Tour the campus
- Learn about co-ops and internships
- Find out about financial aid
- If qualified, will receive on-site admission
- Sign up for placement exams and academic advising
- Gain insight into the 80 degree programs offered by the four colleges
- Get information about campus resources to help students succeed at the University

Plus, the $30 application fee will be waived. All that’s left is to enroll in classes in January. The service is offered every day (except Sundays) in December. No appointment is necessary.

Some questions remain - Why just in December? If they can do it for a month, shouldn’t they be able to do it all year long? Is this a trial program?

Do other schools do this? Competition to fill seats is brisk in the Dearborn area. There are several community colleges nearby, plus campuses of all sorts of universities. Could this be what universities have to do nowadays?

It’s about time the educational community realizes that students are customers. It’s not all about research grants, celebrity faculty, or how much you spend on buildings. Do you deliver the service and can you strip out the waiting?

Dec 19, 2007

Sensei Kringle beats the insanity rap

From Sue Kozlowski in the iSixSigma blog

Miracle on 3.4th Street

(Movie Review - WARNING! May contain spoilers...)
At the beginning of the movie, the Santa Claus who is scheduled to appear in the Thanksgiving Day Parade is found to have significant defects. He is replaced with a worker who seems to utilize standard work, Sensei Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn).

The new Sensei yields improved results for the corporation, Macy’s, based in New York City. The replacement worker, who has a consistent approach to his work in alignment with organizational goals, finds that some other employees don’t believe that his lean six sigma approach can be successful. Taking this as a challenge to persuade and educate, Sensei Kringle embarks on a series of efforts to transform the perception of others who he meets through his new job (Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood).

Sensei Kringle runs into trouble, however, when he takes a so-called "employment test" with an interpretation based on opinion, not fact. The leader who gives the test, a Mr. Sawyer, demonstrates many of the Eight Wastes and seems intent on ruining Sensei Kringle’s efforts towards lean transformation.

In order to minimize the waste of transportation and motion between his home and the Macy’s department store, the Sensei is invited to room with lawyer Fred Gailey (Payne), Sensei Kringle works with Mrs. Doris Walker and her daughter Susan who live in the next apartment. Susan especially begins to appreciate the core tenets of continuous incremental improvement, although she and her mother still harbor some doubts about its overall effectiveness. While discussing Voice of the Customer and Critical-to-Quality issues, the young girl asks for proof of lean’s effectiveness, which Sensei Kringle promises to develop (although it’s a tall order in the short lead time left before the holiday).

When provoked by Mr. Sawyer’s incompetence, Sensei Kringle loses his temper and implements a point kaizen on Mr. Sawyer’s head. Taken to the nearby Bellevue mental hospital, the Sensei deliberately flunks his mental competency test in despair that he will ever get anyone to buy into lean six sigma concepts.

When the Sensei’s cause is taken up by Fred Gailey, the competency hearing becomes very interesting as the judge in the case asks them to prove that the Sensei is really who he says he is. Finally vindicated by no less an authority than the U. S. Postal Service, which has been using lean concepts for some time, Sensei Kringle is declared sane and free to go on Christmas Eve.

After the next day’s Christmas party, Sensei Kringle gives Mr. Gailey, Mrs. Walker, and her daughter Susan special value-enabling directions to take while driving home. Susan is astonished when she sees her special wish for proof of lean’s effectiveness appear right before her eyes - a small Cape Cod home that’s a model of value-added design. She immediately declares that it exceeds her specification limits.

Fred Gailey and Doris Walker realize that their future lies together using lean six sigma, Susan goes out into the back yard to investigate the swing set, and Mr. Gailey congratulates himself on being such a good lawyer and process owner for getting Sensei Kringle off the hook. Suddenly they spy in one corner the Sensei’s cane - was it just a case of effective project management, or was Sensei Kringle a lean transformation expert after all???

(For those of you who somehow have not seen "Miracle on 34th Street," I highly recommend the 1947 original black ad white version. Happy holidays!)

Thanks to Rob Cushard for pointing the way to Sue's blog post.

Dec 13, 2007

The gemba is the dojo at Toyota, says Peter Abilla

Peter Abilla had an interesting post in his Shmula blog last August about how learning works at Toyota: The gemba is the dojo. He says that having a new employee work on the line for an hour before training creates the humbling realization that there is a lot to learn to perform an operation correctly.

The dojo, if you have taken any martial arts training, or watched any martial arts movies, is the place of training. After the quick exposure to the gemba, the employee goes to the dojo in the right frame of mind to start learning.

The gemba, where value is added or where the truth is found, tells you that there is much to be learned. And the dojo doesn’t have to be a special place with a training simulation. Attention in the gemba, whether it’s the plant floor, the road you drive to work on, or the book you are reading, leads to knowledge.

Peter relates the Toyota way of learning to his exploration of Wing Chun, which has led to his study of the Chinese classics, starting with Confucius. He finds the ancient wisdom that learning and order start with the cultivation of being sincere in thought and investigating all things.

Peter describes these insights much better than I – check out the post at If you have time, look around the rest of Peter’s Shmula site. You never know what you’re going to find – he can range from queuing theory to Confucius to adopting a baby -- and his professional background is awesome.

Dec 6, 2007

The line worker's potential recognized in 1923

I have a fondness for old books about manufacturing, and actually read them from time to time. I like tracing the history of ideas and methods. We think we’re coming up with new stuff as we study lean, but we are not. People just stopped paying attention to what past generations were saying.

I was paging through Production Handbook, edited by Alford and Bangs and published by the Ronald Press in 1949 (copyright 1944). Among the more than 80 contributors and advisors was Thomas G. Spates, VP, General Foods Corp. His forte was what was then called “personnel administration,” but he had a human resources attitude, writing:

"Personnel administration is a code of the ways of organizing and treating individuals at work so that they will get the greatest possible realization of their intrinsic abilities, thus attaining maximum efficiency for themselves and their group, and thereby giving to the enterprise of which they are a part its determining competitive advantage and its optimum results."

Alford also quotes (I believe from work by Spates) E.K. Hall of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, the first to be given the title of VP of personnel relations, who spoke to the Illinois Manufacturers Association in 1923. Hall’s address was entitled, “A Plea for the Man in the Ranks.” Let’s just grant that there weren’t too many women in the ranks then. Please note that it is “for” the man in the ranks, as in “on behalf of,” not “to” the line worker:

"Now here is the plea I want to make for the man in the ranks. Make him a member of the team, just a straight honest-to-God member, and treat him like one until he realizes himself that he is a member. That will take time. It will take quite a lot of time. He does not think he is on the team now. He does not think that you think he is on the team now. He thinks that you consider your team consists of the men whose names are listed on your organization chart—the chart showing your line and staff organization. He thinks that he is working for that team and not on it."

Note that he addresses resistance, by saying that you must treat a person as a member of the team until that becomes part of that person’s thinking and feeling. And it can take “quite a bit of time,” to use Hall’s phrase. You’re not going to persuade someone that has been treated like an interchangeable part that he or she is now a team member. People are smarter than that, and they have seen it all before. Let’s face it, many managers instinctively think of people working for them, even almost 85 years after E.K. Hall told an influential group of manufacturing executives that was untrue.

(I tried to find the full text of Hall’s speech online and failed. I did find a book by Spates that I ordered and which is on its way to me right now.)

People like Ohno and Shingo weren’t sitting around dreaming up the principles of the Toyota Production System. They studied and observed everything they could find. What happened here?

Dec 2, 2007

Safety is the foundation - Taiichi Ohno

Quality, delivery, cost, safety and morale (QDCSM) are all important goals at Toyota. Taiichi Ohno said that safety comes before everything else. “Every method available for man-hour reduction to reduce cost must, of course, be pursued vigorously,” he said, according to JeffreymLiker’s book, The Toyota Way, “ but we must never forget that safety is the foundation of all our activities. There are times when improvement activities do not proceed in the name of safety. In such instances, return to the starting point and take another look at the purpose of that operation.” (Excuse the poor diagrams - they came from a PDF of Toyota's 2006 Sustainability Report and a published PPT file and need to be redrawn.)

Toyota today places safety and health firmly in its sustainability strategy. (Toyota Sustainability Report 2006) They are connected to the very foundation of a corporation. “Safety is management itself,” says one maxim, and everyone from senior executives to factory floor employees is expected to take responsibility for placing safety first.

Toyota’s fifth five-year safety and health policy covers the period from FY2005 to FY2009. Among its goals are zero designated occupational diseases, those that result from dust and noise, or musculoskeletal disorders, and zero STOP6 accidents, those that result in death or disability. The STOP6 accidents are:

Being caught in a machine,
Collision with a heavy object,
Collision with a vehicle,
Electric shocks, and
Contact with a heated object

Important goals of the five-year policy are to raise the level of workplace safety skills and to continue implementing and improving proactive prevention activities. Toyota wants to build a workplace environment that is healthy for the mind and body, working to address lifestyle issues such as smoking and obesity, and improving mental health measures.

In FY2005, Toyota addressed basic steps to raise workplace safety levels and to increase the visual representation (mieruka) of all accidents, including minor ones. It implemented new ergonomic measures to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, and promoted stronger measures against noise and dust. Perhaps more importantly, it introduced a comprehensive occupational safety and health management system (OSHMS).

During FY2005, there were no fatal accidents, and the number of STOP6-type accidents and designated occupational diseases remained flat or increased only slightly. Measures against asbestos in facilities and buildings were begun, scheduled for completion in 2006 for facilities and the end of FY2007 for buildings.

Also in FY 2005, the Toyota Safety and Health Global Vision 21 was adopted. This program is designed to standardize the creation of safe and healthy workplaces through a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle based on OSHMS as specified by the International Labor Organization (ILO.) It started in Japan in 2006 and will be rolled out internationally.

Toyota Safety and Health Global Vision 21

The overall Plan phase of the system with its interlocking PDCA cycles begins with the Toyota Safety and Health Promotion Division. It will begin to clarify health and safety policies, with information gathered from Toyota and external organizations.

The Do phase will take place as overseas affiliates, holding companies, and plants adopt and implement safety and health plans, with support and audits from the corporate level.

Internal production preparation divisions will perform the Check phase, conducting system audits. There will be a feedback loop between the internal production preparation divisions and the corporate level to continue policy clarification.

The Act phase will be carried out, initially in Japan through out its housing works and plants, as it receives a review of OSHMS from the internal production preparation divisions’ system audits. Information from the plants will go to the corporate safety and health promotion organization, which will also provide support and audits to the plants.

Information will be exchanged between each of the four entities in the system, with support and audits coming from the corporate entity to each of the other three. PDCA cycles will also be carried out between each point of the overall cycle.

Safety: The Toyota Way
Phil Bluck, safety and security manager, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc., Cambridge, Ontario, says “Safety First” is a corporate value supported from the top down at Toyota.

Speaking at the 2006 conference held by the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA)
in London, Ontario, Bluck said Toyota has a top-down commitment to safety, and a belief that safety underlies overall organizational performance. He stated, “A workplace that is strong in safety will demonstrate its strength through quality and production.”

Toyota’s Cambridge facility, which opened in 1986, employs 4300 workers. Its worker-focused vision says, “Team Members will thrive in an environment where safety, mutual trust, open communication and opportunities for personal growth are encouraged.” In the realm of safety, its vision says, “Our behaviors, words, actions and processes will consistently reinforce the principle of safety first.” TMMC Cambridge aims to be the safest auto plant in North America.

Bluck showed how Toyota’s principle of respect for people and mutual trust are related to the desired safety culture, job satisfaction, pride in one’s job and motivation, team member engagement, and effective listening.
Toyota is striving for zero accidents. Accident prevention begins in vehicle design and continues through process/equipment planning and preparation. Standardized processes are developed for vehicle production. Feedback is collected through suggestions for kaizen activities to check if equipment is inherently safe, and may result in improvements to vehicle design and process and equipment planning. As standardized processes are modified through continuous improvement, safety checks are performed. Periodic checks are also made to ensure that equipment is safe. Throughout the manufacturing process, training is conducted and abnormalities are identified for kaizen improvement.

Bluck said managers are responsible for securing the safety of employees by:

Ensuring that safety policies or workplace rules are followed
Developing a “manager’s eye” to see unsafe conditions and practices
Establishing, implementing, and following up on the prevention activity cycle
Promoting the identification of unsafe conditions and safety kaizen activities with employees

Attention to what TMMC calls ergonomic burden can result in improvements to both employee safety and productivity. Bluck gave the IAPA conference audience an example from the Lexus production line.

Before the process was improved it took 58 seconds to install one fender on a Lexus SUV, with 19 of them spent walking and carrying three jigs used to ensure the fender’s proper fit. Jigs and parts were kept on a nearby flow rack. The result of a kaizen was to design a cart that would transport and hold all the jigs and required parts while the worker installed the fender.

The number of “dance steps,” as Bluck called them, went from eleven to three, with less time spent carrying the jigs. Worker satisfaction improved, fender fit accuracy from 96.8% to 99%, and the risk of musculoskeletal injury went down.
TMMC safety management cycle
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm