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What jobs in the factory of the future? Part5

Not as Many Jobs, But Jobs

Contrasting with my pessimistic analysis about jobs in the factory of future, Hal Sirkin, a senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group, would see the positive side of the half full glass in his article published on www.wired.com

The author discusses the possibility of Foxconn, the enormous Asian gadget manufacturer, to open factories to the U.S.

These US based factories would serve both tech company clients and the consumers who buy the gadgets they assemble, where they live. Cost differences being levelled by rising wages in China, the availability of advanced technology (automation, robotics) and an educated workforce to run it.

Sirkin warns “These Foxconn factories won’t be like the auto plants of the 1950s, that bygone era politicians so often invoke when promising the revival of U.S. manufacturing. Most of the jobs in these factories likely will require more than a high school diploma, and there won’t be as many of them to be had. (../..) Not as Many Jobs, But Jobs”.

 What jobs in the factory of the future? >Part1 >Part2 >Part3 >Part4

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What jobs in the factory of the future? Part4

It doesn’t take very keen analytic abilities to foretell the most likely future of jobs in industry. Common sense of the man on the street is enough.

Industry in US and Western Europe has paid a high price to the appealing cheaper manufacturing in low-cost countries. The customers were delighted with cheaper prices, even at the expense of product quality and of the homeland jobs.

Now that these low-cost products don’t come so cheap anymore and the unemployment rate of youngest and eldest population is a real burden as well as a societal problem (case of France), the promises of a new industrial era favored by smart automation and IT are welcome.

Politicians promote the factories of the future and the industrial jobs, smartly avoiding being specific about their number and the required qualifications.

The man on the street is clever enough to grasp unspoken reality: highly automated factories won’t require much manpower. Automation always replaced human labor.

For those believing in worker friendly cobots >Read my post about collaborative robots

The remaining required workforce will have to interact with technology, made as easy as managing one’s favorite social media, which favors the digital natives. At least good news for the youngest generations.

For outcast elder manpower perspectives don’t look bright. They won’t sell their experience, most of which is no longer required in the highly automated future. Radical change is tougher for those past 45 or 50. It’s not easy to start learning a new job, compete with younger folks and voluntarily reduce living standard.

I witnessed the failure of trying to convert a handful of 50-year-old print shop workers into telemarketers. I am pessimistic about converting millions of outdated senior professionals in anything new. And so does my fellow-man on the street.

 What jobs in the factory of the future? >Part1 >Part2 >Part3   >>Part5

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How lean are you? Part 2

In previous post I described the lean awareness assessment, a relatively simple but not very effective way for assessing leanness.

Its weak point is the assumption lean awareness and operational performance are correlated and this causation is taken for granted. While this assumption makes sense and may be true, experience shows that this cause-effect relationship is not systematic.

It soon becomes obvious that Lean awareness should be checked versus operations’ performance level. This adds a second dimension to the assessment and allows scoring within a two dimensional matrix.

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Four basic cases

A simple four quadrants matrix is very helpful to categorize an organization among four basic types. Instead of naming each type and explaining it I invite you to read the explanation and guess the name.

Lean Assessement Matrix

1) high awareness low performance

As described in previous post, many organizations may have very lean aware executives, managers, techs and personnel but there is no evidence of lean benefits on shop floor nor in operation’s performance indicators.

While concepts, methods and tools are known, at least in executives’ level, there is little evidence of them in ops and performance is low in comparison of other competitors or similar companies.

I call these organizations “theoreticians”.

2) low awareness high performance

These organizations perform well but at the expenses of their resources. The products are manufactured and delivered at high costs and/or capacities as well as material are wasted. Manpower is sweating to achieve these results or staff is plenty, more than really necessary or staff is working overtime often.

I call these organizations “effective” as they deliver timely (when really required) the awaited products and hopefully make some profit despite all the wastes. Profit could be higher, costs lower or spent energy more reasonable.

Until recently pharma industry was in this category, as sales profits were so high it wasn’t meaningful to strive for leaner operations, any investment in additional capacity eventually paid off. In case of pharma, capacities have often been wasted, low OEE being compensated by investments in additional capacities. Quality is worshiped at a point that any doubt leads to product or material destruction rather than trying to master processes. Times are changing and pharma has to consider leanness.

3) high awareness high performance

This quadrant is the quadrant of best in class, of operational excellence. Knowledge of Lean principles, methods and tools translate into operational practices, yielding good results at lowest costs and resource consumption.

These organizations are “efficient”.

4) low awareness low performance

The last quadrant is the all-danger zone in which the organization shows no awareness about Lean principles, methods and tools nor good operational performance.

If this is a start-up, it is understandable (but no excuse, Lean start-ups do exist!) but in any case this company should react swiftly and jump out of this deadly corner of the matrix.

I found no suitable name for organizations in this quadrant, feel free to suggest one!

When facing such a case in my consultant job, I urge the top management to get out of this “endangered” position, my best naming so far.

What course?

From low/low to high/high, no interest to lose time getting theoretical knowledge first (quadrant “high awareness low performance”) as performance is more important for immediate survival than knowledge. In a pragmatic way, it’s okay to go for “low awareness high performance” first, and then working to get efficient, thus heading for high/high.

Another route, more ambitious, is to head straight for high/high, trying to both improve performance and lean maturity. This may be difficult and risky.

>The next post deals with how to plot the position point in the matrix.

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How lean are you? Part 1

This is the first post of the “Lean assessment series” dedicated as its name tells to organizations’ leaness assessment.

One common and easy way to assess leanness is to check the organization’s lean awareness. This is usually done using a five level scale ranging from “barely any knowledge” to “top awareness”.

Assessors use question grids and score awareness according to answers and sometimes proofs and evidence. In the example below, the grid is built on five levels reflecting the judo / Six Sigma belt hierarchy. A set of questions or statements faces each level. If the respondent meets the requirements enclosed in questions or statements, the level is checked.

Lean Assessment Grid

Lean Assessment Grid

These grid usually come with reminders of proofs and evidences the assessor can ask or seek.

The assessment uses several grids, one per theme, several topics per theme, several items per topic, structured like this for example:

 Assessment Grid structure

One common way to summarize the results of all grids is to display a radar chart. Each theme is shown on an axis, the leaner , the more the surface covers the graph. Indents in the graph show the fields candidate for improvement.

Radar Chart

This kind of assessment is rather basic and assumes lean awareness leads to better performance as lean-aware organizations are supposed to think and act according to lean principles and use lean tools and techniques, thus are more efficient.

In reality I haven’t seen many lean-aware organizations, rather some lean-aware executives and middle managers with waning souvenirs about this or that tool.

This leads to the illusion of top management and the clear cut in the pyramid.

Cut in pyramid

While the lean aware top management believes lean tools and principles they mentioned or even promoted have dripped down to the shop floor, the latter has no knowledge and does not use any of them.

As top managers seldom tour the gemba and don’t pay much attention to the shop floor trivialities, they keep sitting in their ivory tower believing Lean tools and principles are in place.

The correlation between lean awareness and operational performance is not questioned either.

In the next post, we’ll see how to improve Lean assessment adding one more dimension.

>How Lean are you? Part2

You may also like: The fallacy of maturity assessments


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The Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) at MIT offers LAI Self Assessment Tool (LESAT) for free download: http://lean.mit.edu/products/lai-self-assessment-tool-lesat-2

Definition of Lean in 15 words

One day after posting “Difficult definition of Lean” I came across Alessandro Di Fiore’s HBR article “The Art of Crafting a 15-Word Strategy Statement“.

The similarities between a concise strategy statement and a concise Lean definition struck me immediately. As a Lean definition may serve as a strategy statement and if a compelling strategy statement can be crafted with only 15 words, then a Lean definition can be expressed the same way!

This came as a sign just one day after posting my complaint about the difficulty to define Lean without oversimplifying it.

Picking up the challenge

I took a sheet of paper, a pen and drew a 3×5 table and assigned myself the requirements. The 15 boxes must hold the words:

  • Giving a concise yet accurate definition of Lean
  • That could serve as a strategy statement, or at least a True North statement
  • That is also a motto or reminder for people involved in a Lean transformation
  • Holding Jim Womack’s 3Ps: Purpose, Process, People

The result is:

Constantly achieving higher performance benefiting
customers and stakeholders using just
needed resources and everyone’s contribution

The definition reads: (Lean is) constantly achieving higher performance benefiting customers and stakeholders using just needed resources and everyone’s contribution.

Robustness test

In order to check the definition compliance to requirements, I asked myself following questions:

  • Does it focus? Yes. Anybody unaware about Lean can grasp the idea. It states what Lean strives for/has to offer, who will benefit and the carries the idea of frugality regarding costs (resources) and involvement of everyone.

I did not keep the difference or contrasting requirement as Alessandro Di Fiore recommends, even I am fan of neuromarketing approach. I assume that a good definition caries the implicit definition of what Lean is not and what makes Lean different.

This definition can be used as an elevator pitch with a CEO who will probably take particular notice of constancy, higher performance, customers and just needed resources. It can be proposed to personnel and labor union members, who will probably take particular notice of benefiting stakeholders and everyone’s contribution.

  • Can it serve as a strategy statement, or at least a True North statement?

I did believe so. To check it further, I asked myself can it be used as an upper objective (organization’s purpose) of a Goal Tree and can I derive the three to five Critical Success Factors (CSF) by asking “in order to constantly achieving higher performance benefiting customers and stakeholders using just needed resources and everyone’s contribution, I need…” and under each of these CSF a set of Necessary Conditions? Here the response is no about purpose. No organization would be created to fulfill such a generic fuzzy purpose, but the definition suits well as a CSF. The definition does not answer the question WHAT, but rather the HOW.

  • Can the definition be used as a motto or reminder for people involved in a Lean transformation? I do believe so. Every term is important and can be unfolded for more detailed explanation or to show how some behaviors or practices drift away, thus adjust them.
  • Does it convey Jim Womack’s 3Ps: Purpose, Process, People principle? Well yes, with a peculiar highlight of the purpose, not that much about process and the idea of people involvement.

For the time being I will keep it as is. I invite any reader to submit alternate 15-words definitions or post remarks about my reasoning.


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Difficult definition of Lean

Did you ever face the same difficulty explaining Lean to someone who knows nothing about it?

It’s a real dilemma between giving a short yet oversimplified definition or setting up a kind of improvised conference that may disconnect your audience before it got the minimum understanding about Lean, isn’t it?

Once familiar with Lean, the question sounds strange. When knowing the basics and the jargon, a very concise definition is enough to understand what is wrapped within.

When explaining to somebody new to Lean or ignorant about it, most choose an elevator pitch style definition in order to raise interest letting the details for a later opportunity.

There are also cases when people obviously misunderstood a definition of Lean, like these guys proud about “being Lean” because they initiated 5S, and stick to their belief, surprised that you come up with something different.

Elevator pitching

Short, concise and sharp definitions of Lean are favored first because when delivered in assertive tone, they give confidence to both the speaker and the listener. In most of the cases, these pitches are teasers, catch enough interest of the listener for him to offer a further opportunity to learn more.

Alas, these concise definitions are also very often oversimplifying and while being true may be misleading. One example is : “Lean is about eliminating waste”.

Of course Lean is fighting against waste, but not because it was its goal but because it was what the workers on shop floor could do by themselves in order to contribute providing more value to customers.

If the listener only understands Lean as fighting waste, he’ll may grow the ranks of those believing it being cost cutting or doing 5S and thus miss a lot of its other potentialities.

Another example of such kind of over simplified definitions is: “Lean is about speed (and Six Sigma is about quality)”. Again, yes it’s true, when a process is freed from its major wastes the speed of flow increases, but speeding up alone is not enough because you can speed up a totally needless process without any benefit for customers.

On the other hand, as soon as the definition turns into a long sentence or several sentences, there is a risk to confuse the listener with too much information and scare him about something that sounds complicated.

A delicate balance

In my post definition of Lean, Dan Jones and Jim Womack illustrate two different approaches while defining Lean: Dan Jones uses the professorial extensive definition, Jim Womack uses the elevator pitch style, but giving a bit more explanations right after pitching, as does Mike Rother in the >related post<.

Circumstances play a role when it comes to choose the definition. Dan Jones has the opportunity to explain extensively in a 6mn video obviously in his control, while Jim Womack and Mike Rother answer interviews where usually short and straight to the point answers are preferred.

Karen Martin, answering the question in Quality Progress February 2014 issue, goes for halfway: (Lean is) “a business management system consisting of principles, practices and tools and is primarily about developing people to achieve business results.” She adds “It is hard to summarize because of its multilayered effect and complexity without oversimplifying it.”

All of these definitions are correct and convergent for initiated yet different and maybe puzzling to newbies. I haven’t a unique definition of my own. As others, I tend to adapt to the audience and the time I feel reasonable under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I usually regret short definitions, feeling I owe more than this to Lean.


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Mike Rother’s definition of Lean

Defining Lean in a concise way is a challenge. Mike Rother’s definition as reported in february 2014 issue of Quality Progress goes like this:

Lean is the permanent struggle to flow value to one customer

This elevator pitch needs to be further explained. Mike Rother delivers some additional bullet points onto which I develop a bit further:

  • Permanent means on-going, never-ending. Lean is continuous improvement, as every improved situation can still be improved. Further improvements are revealed after looking again to the situation after a while or because some parameters have changed, situation evolved or technical evolutions allow new progress.
  • Struggle is the challenge to go through PDCA. It’s also about fighting inertia or falling back to old habits, finding energy to keep going on and fight against all the changes that affect negatively the processes we try so hard to improve.
  • to flow is not (just) provide. I understand this as more than a one shot, more than just the satisfaction of an expressed need, but a link between a constantly pleased customer and a dedicated supplier. Providing value can be done by timely dropping a shipment of awaited goods, meeting the requirements. Full stop. To flow value is care taking and providing what is needed or relevant next, continuously.

After reading this post, Mr Rother kindly contacted me to correct the quote in QP (the word ‘just‘ got lost) and explain the meaning behind to flow is not just provide:

In other words, it’s not just hold items in inventory or provide disparate points of service so you can (hopefully) provide what a customer wants, but rather to strive to flow a product/service to the customer when they want/need it. For instance, a customer seeking to buy a particular item, or handling the interaction points (purchase, check in, security, etc.) one goes through for air travel. That kind of flow ideal may not be completely reachable, but it gives us something to aim and strive for!

  • Value changes over time. Value is usually defined as “what customer is willing to pay for” and in most of the cases it’s a solution to his/her problems. Once the problem solved another will pop up or take the new priority in the problems list. That’s why value changes and that’s why the link with customers is to be kept. Lean is not selling solutions off the shelf.
  • to one customer, the part Mike Rother develops most: “at the end of your value stream is one customer. Toyota had a traditional saying: we make millions of cars but the customer buys only one“. Disappointing a customer is losing the opportunity to build loyalty. This customer order pulled the production, it is clearly defined, already sold, so this trusting customer cannot be disappointed and every order requires special care.

I am not sure to translate Mr Rother’s idea faithfully, so please consider it as my own understanding. Feel free to give your insights or comments.

Related: Dan Jones and Jim Womak definition of Lean


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Robots won’t take your job, investors will

In a previous post I outlined cobots utopia where collaborative robots extend the worker’s abilities and compensate some human weaknesses. In this perspective cobots could keep aging workers on the job and help to improve industrial jobs’ image, often quoted Dirty, Dangerous and Difficult.

The cooperation between robots and workers could increase manpower productivity, hence reducing the cost gap with low-cost countries.

How likely is this to happen?

Let’s put it bluntly: why should an investor invest to compensate the human weaknesses with high-tech, knowing that in the system made of the association of robots and humans, the latter will still be the limiting factor?

Everything else being equal, why should an investor choose the precarious option of backing-up expensive workforce with cobots when a cheaper basic workforce is available somewhere in poorer, not-so-advanced countries?

Everything else being equal, why should an investor choose to invest in a complex combination of man-and-machine when full automation / robotics may soon be / already is (?) available?

Big Data combined with cyberphysical devices will come closer to human intelligence, allowing machines to learn from experience and predict failures, stoppage, breakdowns and act accordingly.

If investors are facing the choice between a cobot assisted human worker and a full automated process, I’m not sure many cobots will sell. What’s sure, the robot makers will sell, either robots or cobots!

Related: Cobots utopia

Cobots utopia

What is a cobot?

A cobot is a collaborative robot, a robot able to work with human, assist them, collaborate with them, without harming them.

Traditional industrial robots are fenced off humans to avoid injuring them while moving or working. Unlike cobots, traditional robots cannot notice human presence and adapt their behavior. Usually a safety barrier will put the robot on hold when trespassed.

Cobots are meant to assist their human colleagues, taking over repetitive, dangerous hard work or extending human abilities e.g. Lifting heavy weight, reduce fatigue, and so on.

Cobots can take over the non-value-adding operation, freeing humans for more valuable tasks. Cobots could boost productivity.

Cobots could be a solution to ease working in general, in some industries where operations are heavy-duty and help aging workforce to keep their jobs. Cobots could serve as mentors and assistants, cybernetic reminders, knowledge base and many more.

Cobots may help overcome the relunctancy for industrial jobs often quoted as Dirty, Dangerous and Difficult.

Cobots utopia

At first. The idea to assist and relief the aging and stressed human workers with a gentle, care taking cybernetic colleague sounds good.

These cobots will compensate many human weaknesses, hence improve quality and productivity. All the chores will be pushed onto them, while the human worker, thanks to his human status and alleged capabilities, is the leader of this pair or pack.

Cobots would remind their human colleague not to forget again this or that operation, adapt their speed to him and go on with work restlessly while he/she enjoys coffee break.

In a process involving humans, the human link is the weakest link of the chain. Unreliable, highly variable in mood and performance, needing periodic rest.

Yet humans have human abilities like adjust to unexpected events, learn from experience or solve problems. These made them unique and valuable in semi-automatic processes despite all other numerous weaknesses. At least until technology catches up.

Related >Examples of cobots