The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 1

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiatives

Yes, Lean initiatives can be started bottom-up, but I doubt they’ll get very far and last for long. Here is why.

Bottom-up Lean initiatives, e.i. improvements, are opportunities for improvement found by shopfloor people, line leaders or shop management. “Improvement” is most often understood in a broad meaning and bring up suggestions ranging from make worker routine job easier, fix small problems, make the workplace more enjoyable, achieve their work more efficiently and maybe add some value for end customers.

In order to awaken the staff to finding such opportunities, an initial training about Lean principles, the seven wastes (the infamous muda!) is often necessary, with “kaizen events” organized to hunt wastes and frame the initiatives.

Most often the improvement suggestions and bottom-up Lean initiatives remain in this format: a moderated, paced, focused and framed series of periodic workshops. The events are planned and not problem-driven, done when the workload allows it, which means when people have time and management agreement to distract some resources and time from regular operations.

Here lays a triple pitfall:

  1. People do not develop an autonomous Lean Thinking culture, but keep playing the assistants of some appointed Lean “genius”(1). If the latter is not available, the event cannot happen (so common when “black belts” are mandatory) and chances are that the knowledge gathered during these events will not remain with the team, but go away with the facilitator instead
  2. Problems are not tackled when they appear, failing to use the opportunity for learning from a real, actual and acute case. The muda hunters are set loose to “find something to improve” when the kaizen event is scheduled
  3. As the kaizen events are scheduled and too often subordinate to low workload, the “continuous improvement” is erratic in frequency, inconsistent with learning, problem solving and likely to be stopped for good at some point because “We have no time”.

The format and drawbacks of those events is not the sole reason for making me doubt about bottom-up Lean initiatives being viable. Those bottom-up ideas and initiatives assume that the suggestions will lead to real improvements.

Yet how many of them are nothing else than improving the workplace comfort, changing something to workers’ preferences or taste while assuming this will ultimately lead to (noticeable) performance improvement?

I’ve seen many such “improvements” agreed because management wanted to show willingness to back up bottom-up suggestions, foster workers’ commitment and not discourage them from the beginning. Other suggestions were agreed on the belief they would indeed improve “something”.

Yet most often the evidence of the improvement is not delivered, and no kind of measurement is set up to demonstrate the gain. I am not even expecting for an indisputable demonstration of the cause-and-effect relationship linking the “improvement” to a positive increase of performance, a trustworthy correlation would suffice.

Worse, the good idea in say manufacturing is to have parts unpacked and presented ready to assemble for assembly line workers. The unpacking and display of parts is pushed upstreams to the logistic team feeding the lines. As production lines productivity is measured and closely watched, their efficiency may well go up when the parts preparation is get rid of.

For the logistics team it’s another story, it must absorb additional workload without compensation and as usually its productivity is not measured, nobody sees the waste simply moved to it, perhaps at the expense of other useful activities.

Even worser: Value Stream Mapping is one of the most popular Lean tool and used as a waste revelator. So Value Stream Maps flourish and again muda hunters are set loose to eliminate waste. What the mappers overlook in the first place is the value of the stream they are mapping. And sometimes the process under scrutiny is a pure waste that is noticeable when seen from broader perspective, or higher altitude if you will. But this vantage point isn’t familiar to shopfloor staff.

Isn’t it ironic they put means and time to optimise possible waste? A Lean-deadly sin…

What happens so often next with bottom-up initiatives is top management asking where the beef is. After all, time and resources have been used to “improve”, so where is the return on this investment? And getting no convincing answer, the whole is finally put on hold and frustrated stakeholders conclude that Lean doesn’t work. (2)

Summing up

  • Scheduled and framed workshops are not the best way to develop a Lean culture, especially if it’s the only “continuous improvement” mode
  • Teams remain helpers to the appointed Lean / Six Sigma champion, barely develop a Lean culture
  • Bottom-up initiatives are too often based on unchallenged assumptions regarding the outcome, started on wishful thinking
  • Middle management often lacks the courage to discard suggestions that will obviously not lead to meaningful improvement
  • Improvements are too often local optimizations at the expense of the greater good
  • Shopfloor staff don’t know the bigger picture, hence improve what they see and know, reinforcing the previous point
  • Proof of the reality of the improvement is not systematically delivered
    At some point top management will put an end

Footnotes

(1) “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”, in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”.
(2) I do not approve the way some companies require a calculation of a ROI prior to any change, because the way many costs are defined are questionable. Sometimes improvement are hard or even impossible to express in numbers: reduction of Lead Time, neatness, morale…That’s why I mentioned “correlations”.

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My blog’s third birthday

January 2014 – January 2017, my blog is now online for 3 years and counts 347 posts.

Thanks to all of you my audience is gently growing on this blog, as well as on my Youtube channel and on tweeter. All organic!

What is the most read here?

According to the stats, Constraint vs. bottleneck is the absolute winner, ahead of 3D Printing and Porter’s five forces ranking second.

Then comes a string of posts related to the Logical Thinking Process and the popular Goal Tree.

What’s on schedule for 2017?

Well I have a huge inventory of titles, topics, half-written posts on the various subjects I’d like to share: Lean Management, more about Logical Thinking Process and Theory of Constraints, my prospective survey about the future of manufacturing and much more.

I’ll try to post on a regular basis and bring some value-added content. You are welcome to give me feedback in the comments.

Hope to see you here!

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What is Industry 4.0 – Juergen Kanz

“Industry 4.0” was coined in Germany and is becoming the European name of what is also known as Smart Factory, Smart Manufacturing, Industrial Internet among others.

Note: German and French write “industrie” instead of “industry”

In this slightly more than one hour video, Juergen Kanz, Systemic Thinker and Theory of Constraints expert, introduces to the concept of Industry 4.0

You may jump to 4:55 to the explanations of 4th industrial revolution and how the German federal government came to encourage this initiative, and 12:40 for the presentation of the structure of the “platform industrie 4.0”.

Juergen takes the viewers deeper into the details and implications before linking the opportunities of Industry 4.0 to the Theory of Constraints (ToC) Body of Knowledge (around 49:00).  ToC provides several mindsets, principles, methods and tools that may help to install and get the benefits of industrie 4.0 based solutions.

Can CCPM reinforce Parkinson’s law?

In this post I share a post-mortem analysis of a situation we’ve encountered while helping a company to improve its performance. This company was specialized in custom-made machine engineering and asked for help to improve its On-Time Deliveries performance. We proposed to install Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), an obvious choice given the circumstances.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is supposed to supersede Critical Path Method (CPM) with its capability to deliver projects on time, something CPM has consistently failed to do for more than sixty years now.

Among the obstacles to on-time project termination is the Parkinson’s law. This law – not to be confused with the disease of the same name – states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”,

The Critical Chain Project Management approach recognizes this specific behavior consisting of refining the work, add unrequired features or perform additional tests instead of handing the task over to the next person in charge when finishing a project task ahead of time.

The main reasons for this behavior refered to as “Parkinson’s law” are that someone finishing earlier will:

  • fear to see the allocated time to achieve the task reduced by management the next time
  • fear to appear unable to give a trustworthy estimation of the time necessary to complete a task
  • enjoy the extra time when finishing earlier instead of being late and under pressure
  • enjoy to seemingly deliver just-in time and as predicted something that is ready and waiting for a while

Critical Chain Project Management being aware of the Parkinson’s law, its proponents educate the project members about the consequences of this behavior and put the relay race principles as well as common project buffer in place.

The relay race principles state that when a task on the Critical Chain is nearing its completion, a signal is sent to the next resource that will take over. This resource is then using this early warning to make sure to be ready on the high priority task that soon will be handed over. This is like the relay runner starting to run when the baton is approaching in order to be at top speed when it’s handed over.

The common buffer is a shared protection of the finishing date made of the sum of roughly the half of all individual protection margins. Please see Introduction to Critical Chain Project Management for more details about CCPM protective buffer.

So far so good. Now here is a developers team that was working in constant hassle, with chaotic and permanent priority changes and countless interruptions. Multitasking was so bad that some of the members could not work on a given task more than 3 minutes in average before the next interruption occurred.

Thanks to CCPM, multitasking was banned, interruptions prevented and focusing on one single project at a time became the new rule. The team members soon acknowledged the positive change and the comfort of getting rid of all the hassle and the multitasking.

Yet top management was not happy because the development team did not deliver more by finishing projects earlier, and taking a closer look concluded that CCPM reenforced Parkinson’s law. Indeed, the team members took it easy and did not really rush to the next priority job once their current task on the critical chain was completed.

What went wrong?

Well, nothing went really wrong, simply putting the system under control and stopping the constant chaos let the true problem show up: the team was not managed.

As long as everyone could influence the work on the projects, mainly sales managers and general manager worrying about the delivery date, someone was giving orders. Under such a pressure the developers managed to push the projects to their completion, even they finished late. As things were progressing, even in a total uncoordinated way, there was a general feeling that the process was delivering.

Once the CCPM rules were agreed and installed, sales managers and the general manager refrained to interfere with development team and developers had their list of priorities to work on. What they did not have was a manager taking care about work intensity (another word for productivity), cadence, challenging for continuous improvement. In one word: a manager.

Without the management’s constant challenge and care, the developers simply laid back, feeling legit to do so after all the years of stress and bad working conditions.

Insufficient cause

Reflecting on this story I realized that the top management was assuming that CCPM principles of stopping multitasking and keep focusing on the critical chain priorities was enough to squeeze out the unnecessary individual margins and consequently speed up the development process. This in turn would allow to increase throughput with the same resources.

In the Logical Thinking Process (LTP) lingo, this is an insufficient cause, meaning that by itself it will not be sufficient to cause the expected effect; increasing throughput.

What we consultants, and probably the general manager, considered a given was that this team was managed. As well this was clearly a Necessary Condition, we felt it was “oxygen”, another LTP term for conditions that are supposed so obvious that it is not necessary to express them, just as oxygen is necessary for humans to breath.

Conclusion

The CCPM principles worked well. The chaos was tamed and the developments could finish within the estimated time, now based on so-called focused durations.

The Throughput did increase, but not dramatically. There a three reasons for this:

  1. First reason is that the increase of throughput allowed new projects to start earlier, but given the average length of a project (10-12weeks), the speeding up was not very noticeable.
  2. Second, CCPM was applied on the work packages without challenging the work package contents nor engaging continuous improvement at once. The local management chose to collect data about buffer consumption first, in order to understand where and what to improve. Given the projects durations, this is a slow process.
  3. Third, there was no incentive to improve due to the lack of team management. This later becoming blatant once all other disturbing factors have been neutralized.

So CCPM did not enforce Parkinson’s law. CCPM did what it is supposed to: set the scene for efficient focused work and deliver the projects on promised dates.

CCPM is no cure for everything and no substitute for failing management.


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The benefits of failing fast

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, CEO of a small Consulting firm, he explained me how he energized his small company using Lean Startup principles and tools.

Especially when it comes to answer calls for tender or a request for a proposal, Frederic (his name) has gotten pickier.

My test, he said, is to ask when I can come and present my proposal. If the person asks to receive it by e-mail or tries to escape the presentation, chances are there is no genuine interest. I can save myself precious time for something doomed from the beginning. I won’t inflict pain to myself starting to answer. Fail fast, save time.”

Being still somewhat old school, educated in a system and at a time when failing was not fashionable, I realized that “failing fast” is not only about physical widgets or apps not working (even if called Minimum Viable Products) or services nobody care about except their creators, but also about the more mundane and lukewarm requests from prospects.

I recalled how many proposals I wrote myself, for which I got stupid excuses to turn them down, if any answer ever came. I could have failed fast and saved myself a lot of time!

Indeed, some prospects are asking for proposals to gather some intelligence on a subject, fuel their own creativity, get a free guideline to roll out the proposed program by themselves or just to please the purchasing department with more than their favorite proposal because the procedure requires at least three.

In a time of harsh competition it’s sometimes hard to discard an opportunity for business, but here one has to remember that every inquiry and call for tender is not a true opportunity.

And failing fast has real benefits, it saves time!

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From Obeya to wallpaper show room

When visual management turns into useless wallpaper

Having an Obeya is the latest – fashionable – sign an organization takes Lean seriously. The name itself sounds performing as is it is so strongly related to Lean.

Obeya may sound both exotic and performing, but is nothing more than a “big room”.

(I assume the perplexed Japanese are too polite to ask why so many westerners get jumpy when getting a big room.)

The bigger the room the longer the walls that call for something to display. And in order to make the obeya impressive, especially to visitors, lots of graphs, figures, tables, drawings, photos and maps must be displayed. So shall it be.

As a matter of fact, many companies display impressive walls clad of the previously mentioned printed material, plus sticky notes and hand colored symbols.

Well, many and most of the obeyas I’ve seen fail to turn to the war room where smart decisions are made to win the never ending battle against the empire of waste and its dreaded sneaky saboteurs named muda, mura and muri.

Getting closer to the display, it takes the outsider a while to find out the meaning of what is shown. I didn’t expect the pride about achievements to be that discreet, but it turns out, once the code for reading the charts has been broken, that the pride and achievement are still to come. Anytime soon suggests the presenter.

Not seldom are the prints totally outdated, and latest manual inputs (a place is left for them) missing. Key performance indicators graphs are plotted without any mention of unit nor indication of the target. Some data tables or audit sheets show the period between two events, confirming the lack of cadence.

Actions plans are anything but that. Fluffy wording is used to describe problems and even more fuzzy ones to describe the actions to take. The department in charge are mentioned together with a date (never know if it is the date the information is pushed to this department or the expected date of problem resolution), but nothing to track the actor’s acknowledgment, results nor to check off the action as successful.

The latest obeya with long walls full of complicated looking graphs and lots of other information turned out to be a kind of wall of shame, bluntly displaying and confirming what was happening on the nearby shopfloor. With time lag though.

Nevertheless, those obeyas just as the successful ones, set the scene for ritual meetings where the poor performances are “discussed” without many convincing decisions taken. My colleague describes those rooms as places where people shout at each other, standing.

Now, when I am invited to visit the Obeya, I expect to see visual management turned into useless wallpaper and the dedicated war room turned into a pathetic wallpaper showroom.

To end this post with a more optimistic tone, I assume I am only called to places in trouble and those working well simply do not need me.


Share your experience via comments!


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My takeaways from Breakthrough Project Management conference

Paris, October 17th, 2016. Ian Heptinstall, co-author of “The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management, Capital & Construction Projects on-time in less time, on budget at lower cost without compromise” (full title), was there to deliver his conference on the subject.

Before you turn away thinking this has nothing to do with my industry, you should ask yourself if yours too struggles to deliver on time, in full, on budget. If yes, the ideas shared in this conference should be of interest, whatever your trade is.

Ian’s claim is to introduce a way to deliver in less time and less budget, without compromising on scope, quality and risks, no longer trading off.

The conference

The time indications are related to the video

Many project managers do not realize their projects go wrong, but several studies show that most (capex) projects do not fulfil their requirements (2:26). Ian goes through the major reasons at macro and micro level for projects to miss all their targets. Three issues are found at the heart of the problem (8:10); the way to contract, the way to plan and the way to execute.

Ian, together with co-author Robert Bolton, believe they’ve found an easy, repeatable and sustainable way to overcome these issues. The shift from traditional project management to Breakthrough Project Management is presented from 10:00.

Among the things to change is the methodology shift to Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) briefly introduced at 14:32. The project’s monitoring Fever Chart is explained at 22:20. The proven CCPM methodology will face a major obstacle: the way of contracting and purchase (26:06).

The new way to consider contracting is introduced at 29:16 and starts with the issues related to fixed pricing. For instance, complex problems involving high-tech or some new technology are tricky to estimate in terms of costs. Second, buyers want to have fixed prices. Contractors subcontract and ask for fixed prices as well. The buyer is usually the winner on the expenses of the contractor.

Instead of a hierarchy of contractors, the new approach promotes alliancing, i.e. putting stakeholders in a single team aligned onto a common goal and paid in the same way: “cost-fixed-variable” (34:17). Cost are expenses to be covered, without markup. The fees are fixed and variable and not related to costs. The only way for the partners to make more money once the project is started is to get the variable fees, thus have a successful project. What the success is made of is left to the client to decide: time, quality, safety.. This changes the team members behaviors.

The characteristics of project alliances are summarized at 37:45. Project alliancing does not mean the bidding is not competitively sourced (39:10).

The conference summary is presented at 39:50.

My takeaways

The whole conference is presented in a lively way, with some funny and true everyday’s examples of the ridiculous requirements or expectations in traditional project management. It makes the conference anything but boring!

Being knowledgeable about Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), it is not the CCPM discovery that raised my interest, but the simple way Ian presented it. It is consistent with the book’s aim: being an executive guide, thus give concise necessary insight and explanation, without boring the audience.

Alliancing was new to me and raised my interest, reminding the issues I’ve seen with the usual hierarchical buyer-supplier relationship.

Finally, I’ve found the whole conference (content and presentation) worth a post to promote it. I hope it will do.

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Samples from LTP training with Bill Dettmer (Day 1)

Paris, June 2016. Bill Dettmer delivers his 6-day Logical Thinking Process training course in our offices. I am attending on the host’s and partner’s side, going through the whole course for the second time (I got my certificate the previous year) as a backup facilitator-if-needed, a master of ceremony, reporter and videographer.

While Bill is sharing his knowledge and experience, I videotape with his consent in order to promote the course and show you samples of what happens during the 6 days.

The following video shows samples of the morning of the first day, once introductions have been made, backgrounds, expectations and motivations of attendants shared.

I am sorry for the poor image quality due to low light, but this is a tradeoff between sharing the experience with the viewers and bothering the course attendants who paid for their seat.

The first morning is spent on some basic theory about the logical relationships, the structure of the different logical trees and how to build them. It paves the way for the afternoon’s exercise in which each participant builds his/her own Goal Tree, then, in turns, presents it to others and have it scrutinized by the others, under Bill’s supervision and coaching.


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The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management – Book Review

The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management is about combining Critical Chain Project Management and “alliancing” or collaborative contracting for a win-win efficient way to manage huge (or small) construction projects.

Soon when reading the guide, it becomes obvious that what the authors describe as efficient in construction and capex projects can be used in many other trades.

Watch the author’s conference