Future of Lean: is a robotic motion a waste?

Motion and transportation count among the 7 basic muda or wastes, that should be eliminated or at least reduced to their bare minimum in order to be leaner.

Now, with the probable rise of robotics, will robotic motion (and transportation) still be considered a waste?

The Lean definition of waste is any consumption of resources, including time, that does not add value. Motion and transportation do not transform nor modify parts or products to something of greater value for customers.

If the transportation means or resources used to move parts or products change to high-tech solutions, the definition of waste remains valid. They may reduce the related time, the strain on human operators, be autonomous but whatever, moving or transporting something is still a (necessary) waste.

The same applies for robotic motions. Thanks to their multi axis construct, robots may be more efficient in motions than humans, thus reducing time, nevertheless, the motion remains a waste.

What about vacuum cleaning robot,robotic lawn mowers or autonomous vehicles?

These devices deliver a service a customer is ready to pay for: having a clean floor, a cut lawn or being transported somewhere. In the current state of technology, there is no way around a moving device.

I am not aware of self cleaning flooring and clean room solutions may not be affordable for households.

Motion and transportation are in those cases part of the value-adding process. That said, if the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower or autonomous car travels more than necessary for purpose, the excess motion/transportation is… a waste.

Any thoughts to share? Use the comments.


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How Lean can help startups – Do not repeat mistakes of established companies 2/2

Entrepreneurs, at the beginning of a new venture, have limited means and therefore should be waste-aware in order not to spoil their so limited resources.

>Have you read part one?

Waste is a central Lean concept widely known and documented. Here is the minimum to know about waste:

Waste is consuming resources without value creation.

Taichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System, has codified the various types of waste. Himself and his team spend significant time on factory shopfloor to observe and understand how and where waste happens.

Waste comes in 3 major families: Mura, Muri and Muda. These, although originally observed in manufacturing, are generic and transferable to any industry or business.

Variability (Mura) produces unpredictable results, uncertainty and variation in quality and delivery. Variability may lead to redo or correct what has already be done, thus “costing the double”, especially when the first widget has to be scrapped or a file discarded, etc. The impact of variability are dissatisfaction and corrective actions inducing additional costs.

The unreasonable (Muri) is the use of inadequate and / or poorly dimensioned resources, which carry risks on quality, safety or health; having people lifting heavy loads, overloading a transportation cart… Other Muri are more impacting costs, like renting a large office when a small one is enough, using a sledgehammer to crack a nut…

“Operational” waste (Muda) were classified into 7 original types to which an eighth was added later:

  • Waste from overproduction
  • Waste from waiting times
  • Waste caused by transport
  • Wastage due to unnecessary inventories
  • Waste in processes (overprocessing)
  • Unnecessary human movements
  • Wastage due to defects / poor quality

and the eighth: waste of human talent

The bigger an organization, the more opportunities to create waste exist: people and processes work with poor coordination, which means waiting, piling up of Work In Progress (another word for inventory), working on wrong versions…

The bigger the organization the more transportation of physical goods between departments (parts, paperwork, material, documents…) and human motion (walking, handling..), handovers, etc.

The list of examples can go on endlessly. It was all experienced in established companies.

For more details about the Lean obsession about waste, I invite you to refer to the related post.

How can this help startups?

Being waste-aware will help prevent waste. Remember: especially at the beginning resources are scarce and should be used wisely.

It is a question of sound management as well as a showing respect to the prime investors trusting the wannabe company.

It is far easier to prevent waste than to fight to reduce it afterwards, another learning from established companies.

So for instance when planning a layout, it should be done in a way to minimize unnecessary motions, handling, transportation and so on.

To avoid overprocessing and overproduction, think about Minimum Viable Product: the demo widget does not have to be perfect nor to come in huge numbers.

When defining a product or service features, remember that “best is enemy of good”; the customers may not want to pay for all the fancy bells and whistles.

Create a culture of “right first time” to minimize quality issues and the burden of rework or redo.

Wraping up

Waste is burning resources without creating value. Some of these wastes are inevitable and should be minimized, others are avoidable and should be eradicated.

Wastes, their effects and ways to prevent them are widely known and documented, therefore entrepreneurs have interest in using the accumulated and shared experience in order to avoid repeating bad practices.


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How Lean can help startups – Do not repeat mistakes of established companies 1/2

If there is one way Lean can help startups, it is to provide guidance or “Lean inspiration” from the very beginning and prevent them reproducing the same mistakes of long-established companies.

>Lisez cet article en français

Most established businesses are built on an outdated model in most cases: the mass production of low variety products, regardless of the actual reality of their business.

This model is characterized among other things by:

  • an organization built on functional silos
  • hypertrophy of overhead functions called “support”
  • a pyramidal hierarchical structure
  • an obsession about lowest unit cost
  • seeking economies of scale

This set of characteristics influenced the structure, management procedures and the rules of the organization.

Yet most startups are preparing to face a demanding market awaiting highly customized products in small volumes, possibly with specific additional services. They may go for pure services e.g. mobile apps, something relatively new compared to established businesses settled before the Internet or mobile phones even existed.

Consumption patterns have greatly changed. Owning something in full property is no longer the single or even principal modality in some cases, think about pay per view, download on demand, rental, subscription and freemium for example.

Thus, a business in creation must adopt a structure fit for the different upcoming challenges:

  • customer satisfaction, which notably includes timely access to services they request; pre-sale consulting, delivery, after-sales service, installation assistance and / or operation, maintenance, etc.
  • the satisfaction of stakeholders, the partners, suppliers, investors, employees, possibly residents, local authorities, etc.
  • the satisfaction of regulatory and legal requirements, including tax, accounting, social, etc.

and all this in a sustainable way.

This structure will evolve over time, because the requirements are not the same depending on the size of the company, its markets and business volumes.

The difficulties that established companies face when looking to return to leaner structures, should encourage entrepreneurs to remain vigilant and embed Lean into the Vision from the start.

It starts with thinking in terms of value-creation flows rather than operational subdivisions. It is often related to as “value chains” or “value streams” that are built specifically to quickly deliver the value expected by customers, without being disturbed nor burdened by artificial , expensive “additions”, without significant contribution to value creation.

The examples which we can think of are:

  • tending over complicated dashboards and lengthy reports
  • installing quality controls to filter and retain defective products
  • granting statutory functions, well paid but non-contributory
  • multiplying hierarchical levels

Experience shows that once such structures are in place, holders, beneficiaries and “supporters” will find ways and means to justify their continuation and even strengthening them, this is Parkinson’s Law.

It is therefore easier to be vigilant and to control the development of such (often called supporting) functions:

  • put in place only what it is a strictly necessary condition for the satisfaction of non-negotiable demands or requirements, by customers, markets or regulation
  • keep them “minimum” from the start rather than fighting desperately to restrict them later
  • do not hesitate to dismantle or convert them if the original requirement disappears or can be satisfied by a more flexible, more efficient or cheaper alternative

>Move on to part two


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How Lean can help startups – Introduction

This post is an introduction to a series of articles dedicated to Lean and start-ups, more specifically: how Lean can help start-ups.

Lean was revealed as “Lean Manufacturing” before spreading to virtually all business sectors and evolve to Lean Management.

Lean has long been seen as an approach (approach or philosophy) specific to existing businesses seeking to transform and adapt themselves to their new competitive environment. Yet if Lean was indeed born in an already established business in bad shape (Toyota), its principles, methods and tools are not limited to these kind of cases.

It is therefore likely that, although not yet much reported in the literature, cases of Lean applications can be found in the early foundation stages of new companies or during the takeover of firms.

It would be very surprising, considering the fame of Lean, that entrepreneurs would not have heard of, or would refrain to inspire themselves from Lean.

How can Lean help startups?

Let’s remind the Lean principles in the context of a startup:

  1. Define value (created) from the perspective of the customers, users or beneficiaries
  2. Create corresponding value stream
  3. Ensure smooth and fast flow of value to the customer
  4. Meet the expectations and demands (pull flow from customer)
  5. Strive for perfection

For this to be possible and viable, an entrepreneur must allocate the proper resources and refrain from the temptation to develop or deliver unnecessary features. This would most likely lead to resource consumption without creating value in return, what is usually considered waste in Lean lingo.

A start-up may seem Lean by definition:

  • With limited resources available, entrepreneurs are assumed to be naturally inclined to be careful with resource management, reasonable and acquainted with the (Lean) concepts of waste
  • Time-to-market (i.e. speed) is obviously a critical success factor, just as is the speed at which the financial flow from sales is returning, hence an assumed entrepreneur’s obsession with flow and speed

But this is not certain. Common sense is less common than one might think.

Moreover, all entrepreneurs have not necessarily been exposed to the benefits of Lean. Finally, even familiar with Lean, entrepreneurs do not necessarily think about its application in the context of a starting business or the creating of a spin-off.

That’s the reason for this series of posts: How Lean can help startups


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Future of Lean and additive manufacturing

In a previous post titled “How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?” my prospective thinking was all about technological disruptions and the impact on companies.

The same question is valid for the future of Lean. If as I assume much of the non-added value can be taken out of actual processes by additive manufacturing, what will be left for lean practitioners to work on?

Whole processes could be reduced to 3D printers or equivalent*, taking out lots of costs and non-value added. But what may be really shocking in near future could be to reconsider what we assumed being added-value in traditional manufacturing, e.g. cutting away material by lathing, milling, etc.

*3D printers stand here for a generic expression for additive manufacturing techniques and machines. 3D printers are already well-known from the public, therefore it makes it easier at present time to refer to additive manufacturing as 3D printing.

These processes transformed raw material in something of higher value, but at expense of a lot of energy, capital and material, like shavings, for example.

With the new perspective of additive manufacturing techniques, raw material will be used in just necessary quantity, most of the energy will really be used to “add” value and almost all of the manufacturing cycle time will be added value time.

Even the non-added value that cannot be suppressed – a former colleague of mine positively calls it “value enabling” – like all the fragmentation of the process between different techniques/machines, hand-offs, transfer, wip, etc. may simply disappear or at least seriously shrink.

Value Streams will become shorter and efficient, some Value Stream Maps limited to the order input and 3D printer!

While today about 2% of the lead time is usually added value, in near future it could soar up to 80% or more!

Future of Lean, Lean in the future, what is your point of view?

Bandeau_CH11You may share your opinion via a comment.

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Lean in digital age: sensors and data

In near future, technology and especially connected objects – smart things stuffed with sensors and so-called wearable devices – will supercharge Lean improvements.

One example of such already used device is given in a Mark Graban podcast about Hand Hygiene & Patient Safety. In this podcast (Episode #205), Mark’s guest Joe Schnur, VP Business Development at Intelligent M, explains how his wearable solution called smart band, (see video below) helps gather huge amount of accurate data compared to human observer with a clipboard.

You may listen to the whole podcast or skip to 13:30 and more specifically to 15:00 to hear about the wearable smart band, 21:50 about the data gathering.
http://www.leanblog.org/2014/07/podcast-205-joe-schnur-hand-hygiene-patient-safety/

Human observer has its limitations as to what information he/she can catch and how accurately it can be done. Think about fast events occurring often and/or tasks not easy to watch because of the layout. Human observations are therefore often limited to ticks on a pre-formated check sheet.

As human observers are high cost (compared to newer technology), they are used in limited number, during limited time and usually with sampling techniques.

Appropriate technology can gather many data for a single event: temperature, motions, duration, acceleration, applied force and what ever embedded sensors are designed for. These devices capture everything of each event, not only samples.

The cost per data point is obviously in favor of technology, not only because of quantity of data but also its quality (read accuracy). In near future the cost of these technologies will further drop, making automatic data collection available almost for free.

The mass of data captured allows using big data techniques, even so data scientists may smile at the “big” in this specific case. Nevertheless, with more smart objects and sensors everywhere (Internet of Things, Smart factories, etc.), the flood of data will grow really big and allow process mining, correlation search on a huge sets of parameters and more.

I am convinced that in near future, most of Value Stream Maps will be generated automatically and updated real time by such kind of devices/data sets, with ability to zoom in on details or zoom out for a broader view at will, and more.

The same systems will be able to pre-analyze and dynamically spot bottlenecks and sub-optimized parts in the process, make suggestions for improvements if not corrections by themselves.

  • Artificial intelligence with machine learning ability will suggest improvements based on scenarios stored in their literally infinite memory or on their predictions about potential problems.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will be made by objects communicating and interacting with each other.

What is likely to come are intelligent monitoring systems for any process, that build and maintain themselves, hence smart factories.

So, when Lean goes digital to that point, what will be left to humans?

This is a topic for a next post and an opportunity for you to give your opinion in a comment.

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You may also be interested by my series about What jobs in the factory of the future?

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Lean in the digital age: free apps

Lean-educated people will consider value as something a customer is ready to pay for because the product or service has some value from his/her point of view.
Lean-educated people will consider to use just-needed resources and avoid unnecessary storage.
But what about free or almost free apps for smartphones and tablets?
Do the Lean principles apply on the digital side?

Value vs price

Apps come for free or for little money. Not a big deal if a free app is not keeping its promises (most do though, I believe), it’s easy to get rid of it and it didn’t cost a thing. Users may be pickier about apps to purchase, but for less a currency unit a piece, who really cares?

Regardless of their price, many apps are real values. I manage my virtual train tickets and journeys via a well-designed and totally free app provided by the French national railway. I use the equivalent for optimizing my rides on subway, bus, tramway and suburb trains in Paris. Another great free app.

I read newspapers excerpts, listen to podcasts, watch educational videos, all provided for free, in some cases with a minor nuisance of advertising, the counterpart for apps being “free”.

As many smartphone / tablet owners, I have dozens of them.

The perceived value / cost ratio is almost infinite. Something impossible in the material world. So great value “nobody” pays for exists. Time to reflect on the Lean-definition of value..!

Just needed resources

Most of the time not-so-useful and never used-again apps will remain on smartphones and tablets, as long as storage space is not a problem. And it takes lots of apps before they turn into a problem of storage space.

Many Lean principles-aware people I know are real collectors of apps. Useful ones and most doubtful ones. The ones they use constantly and those fancy they once installed, tried, forgot and never deleted.

In strict Lean terms this would be waste. But is it?

Waste of what? A few high-definition pictures taken with the smartphone or tablet occupy more memory space than all apps.
Clutter on the screen? No problem, icons can be rearranged and ordered at will. When it’s difficult to retrieve a seldom used app, just type a search.
Battery life? Yes some apps may shorten it, but those energy drainers can be shut off: GPS location, Wi-fi and Bluetooth, etc.

Act of faith

Consider a Lean-educated promoter trying to convert a digital native to apply Lean principles on his favorite geek tools, I bet he/she would have trouble to demonstrate the rationale behind it.

Keeping Lean principles alive with a smartphone or a tablet, if no in the digital age at large, looks to me as an act of faith.


Related: Minimum Viable Product or just crap?

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Can 5S survive big data?

5S are meant to be the foundations of operational excellence as no efficient work is imaginable in a messy, dirty and unsuitable-for-quality environment. This is long proven in the “physical world” and until recently transposable into the virtual world of digital information.

In short, 5S is a framework for sorting, organizing, tidying, set housekeeping and behavioral rules and standards and improving operations. This “school of discipline” and its simple techniques yields fine result in business as well as in private life.

Yet with the rise of big data, this theorem may need revision and it may happen that laws governing physical efficiency are no longer true on the digital side.

This is an outline of more to come on the subject

From scarcity to abundance

From the very limited capacities to the sheer endless ones nowadays, data storage is no more a problem, not for storage itself nor for costs that decrease continually. It was once mandatory to manage the scarcity by getting rid of obsolete or non-essential data and files. This is no more necessary, may be just a nice-to-have option!
From necessary discipline to unavoidable chaos

In early times, limited data processing and storage capacities made data management and housekeeping discipline mandatory. With actual features and apps to retrieve old data and manage different versions of documents, the chore is pushed onto IT tools, freeing users from the necessity of order and tidiness.
Worse, the ever-growing flood of new data makes it impossible to spend time managing the flow. The chaos is unavoidable, but don’t worry, technology takes care.

Numerous, messy data is the new ore

Big data is about… big data, meaning very large sets of data of different nature. Data don’t even have to be complete or consistent, technology now knows how to cope with messy data!

More and more companies are making big money exploiting big data, that’s why data are called new ore.

As lean-educated people understood to think in terms of just necessary resources, big data is all the contrary, the more the better. And because more future value is in yet unknown use of data, those will be created, collected and stored with greed and no intention to discard a bit (!). This ore is endlessly usable and recyclable.

Those companies that haven’t started to collect their ore or started too late or unable to collect it have no other choice than buy it from those who have. Just as it happened with raw material in the physical world.

5S won’t get over the gap

It is interesting to discuss if proven merits of 5S will survive big data. Furthermore, younger generations, so-called digital natives, do they capture the interest of 5S? When I see the most offices in which the younger people work, I can make my opinion.

I assume that in short-term, 5S will only apply to the physical world, while other rules will prevail on the digital side.

Watch for updates

This is an outline of more to come on the subject. Follow me on twitter or on this blog to keep posted for updates. An e-mail or tweet to encourage me would be welcome.

Remember, I am a Frenchman, non-native English speaker. If you have suggestions to improve my writing, do not hesitate to contact me!

Chris HOHMANN

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