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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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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Is Lean about eliminating waste or not?

Some thought leaders and Lean promoters stress the fact that Lean is about eliminating waste while others seem to get away from this idea.

Could some have been wrong? Is there a shift in Lean Thinking? What is Lean finally about? Is Lean about waste elimination or not?

Well, yes and no.

Defining waste

Waste is an outcome of problems, the result of processes not delivering what is expected but Undesirable Effects instead. In order to avoid the same consequences occurring again in future, something has to be corrected and/or improved.

So when someone mentions eliminating waste, in a Lean Thinking context, it means (should mean) solving problems.

Lean for everyone

As Lean is a philosophy for everyone, not for experts only, it is necessary for people on the shopfloor, manning machines or doing routine administration tasks to develop and hone their Lean awareness and culture by eliminating waste and solving problems.

In order to do that, they have to be trained and coached to identify problems and learn how to solve them. They will do so in their familiar environment first and yes it can turn out as a kind of systematic waste hunting.

On the other end, senior management need to setup the “True North” a far away and visible reference, a Goal to achieve for the organization. It is then necessary to solve the various problems hindering the organization to achieve its Goal and improve the processes accordingly.

This again can be called waste hunting, yet it is (should be) focused onto most important problems (and wastes) standing in the way of the organization’s attempt to achieve its Goal.

Once the True North is defined, everyone is expected to align his/her contribution to the achievement of the organization’s Goal. This means pick and work on the problems necessary to be solved.

So Lean is about waste!?

A Lean transformation is not an all-out elimination of waste, but focusing limited resources on the most important leverage points to let value flow faster to the customer.

For instance, if a machine critical to timely deliver goods to the customer has very few spare capacity and often this capacity is wasted by some problems (e.g. late raw material supply or quality issues), then solving the problems in order to reduce the waste of capacity is meaningful.

If a machine in the same process has a lot of spare, unused capacity, it may be seen as a waste of capacity too, but it would only be counterproductive to reduce this waste by running the machine more than necessary. It would end up with overproduction of unecessary parts, excess inventory and transforming raw material that can no longer be used for producing anything else.

Lean is not about waste when it means optimizing every process step by eliminating waste, simply because the sum of the local optima cannot lead to the system optimum.

Wrapping up

When some Lean promoters state Lean is not about waste, they probably mean Lean is not solely about eliminating waste, as waste elimination is a means, not a goal.

Striving to eliminate all waste will not likely end up with a Lean organization.

Yet solving problems that hinder the organization to achieve its Goal is mandatory and as waste is the result of problems, Lean is about waste.

I hope this helps.

Readers are welcome to share their thoughts.


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TOC, Lean and aviation MRO

In a previous post, “CCPM helps shorten aircrafts MRO”, I explained the benefits of Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) for reducing the aircraft downtime during their mandatory and scheduled MRO.

If CCPM is great and helps a lot meeting the challenge, it will not squeeze out every potential improvement, thus time reduction, on its own.

As I explained in my post Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair, “What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Conversely, if wasteful tasks remain in the project network, chance are they will be scheduled and add their load (and duration) to the project.

That’s why in aviation MRO (as well as in other businesses), Critical Chain Project Management will not be used as a stand alone but in conjunction with other approaches, like Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean mainly will help to discriminate value-added from non value-added tasks, especially those on the Critical Chain, making them high priorities to optimize, reduce or eliminate.

We did not differently when we started with our client Embraer and while in their service center, I placed Philip Marris in front of the camcorders to present, in situ, two books related to TOC, Critical Chain and Lean in aviation MRO (aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul).


Note: Critical Chain Project Management is part of the Theory of Constraints Body of Knowledge, hence the title of this post where “TOC” is referring to CCPM.


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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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Discarded the bloody app, feel better now

It was the one which inspired me my post: “Minimum Viable Product or just crap?”, it kept upsetting me over and over while claiming to be the top app for social media management.

I got rid of it and feel much better now.

Not only can I get beyond the limitations, but I have a much more reliable app now.

Yet for one problem settled this way, how many others are still bothering out there?

How many times did you experience a change in software or a mobile app (probably called “iteration” to make it sound trendy), allegedly improving user experience and driving you crazy instead?

It seems to be the new normal in IT development to issue half-baked unstable and bugged new versions, expecting customers to “give feedback”.

I gave my definitive unspoken feedback: I quitted! My time is too precious to “help” f___g developers finish their messy job.

By the way, got my answer: it was no Minimum Viable Product but just crap.


PS: Yes I know, in the first days of the year we should be kind and express good resolutions, but it feels just soooooooooooo good to slam this virtual door on this piece of…

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5 reasons 5S make the world a better place

5S is usually seen as very basic, simple methodology, easy to get through. The reality is totally different and most companies fail to implement a significant and sustainable maturity level of 5S.

For those not familiar with and wanting to learn more about 5S, check my Quick Beginner’s Guide to 5S.

Here are 5 reasons and few examples why 5S make the world a better place.

Please note they are nothing else than some high level consideration and there is much more to 5S than that!

Safety

A tidy clean place is usually a safer place. Compared to dark, dirty, cluttered workspace, a 5S one provides better visibility and overall safety.

Better visibility reduces risks related to hidden hazardous items and situations. It improves the perception of potential risks and helps people to behave, like walking on the pedestrian reserved lanes.

Cleanliness make abnormalities visible, thus prevent risks like slipping on spills.

Decluttering prevents tripping or piled items falling down.

Quality

5S came (back) to the West in the heyday of Total Quality Management, when improving quality was a matter of keeping up with japanese competitors. Quality work and making quality product is not compatible with messy, dirty workplace.

In a cluttered and dirty place it is more likely to have quality defects, like for instance scratches or stain on a panel. Many such quality issues require painstaking rework or even part replacement, which are both wastes.

A screw, nut or bolt can go unnoticed on a dirty and cluttered workbench, leading easily to be forgotten on (re)assembly.

Efficiency

In a 5S environment, items and information can be found immediately without lengthy searches. Saving time is important for reactivity and for adding more valuable and/or enjoyable activities.

In a true 5S work environment, it is possible to share more tools, jigs and fixtures or files because everything is better organized and made visible. More sharing means less buying, thus saving unnecessary expenses.

True 5S workplace requires less space, which in turn requires less walking or transportation and possibly monetary savings.

In 5S places, fewer material gets lost and there is no need for frequent replacement or duplicate inventories.

Image

“High performance companies are beautiful” says my boss, suggesting a tight correlation between the care to keep the company tidy, clean – and generally speaking good looking – and operational performance.

A good 5S image gives confidence to customers, partners, investors and talents, while it provides pride to employees and representatives.

The outlook of a company accounts much more than generally thought in suppliers’ assessments or audits. Poor condition will make auditors suspicious and look closer to details.

Customers will probably be reluctant to buy from a poor looking supplier, fearing that quality or even safety of the goods or services will reflect the company’s look.

Environment

5S helps to use just required quantities, which consumes lesser raw materials and energy, reduces waste, sewage, pollution and the like.

5S workplace are less likely to have pollution issues by accident or lack of rigor/discipline.

Tidy smaller workplaces require fewer air conditioning or heating, less lighting.

Constantly cleaned areas are easier to keep clean and require less aggressive chemicals to remove smear and stains.

This is not greenwashing but concrete actions.


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5S in hospital

5S are as well an approach, philosophy and methodology to better workplace organization, foundations for efficient and safe work, as well as insuring quality and continuous improvement. They originated in their current form* in industrial workshops in Japan, leading many people to think “this is a production thing“.

The following video shows a good example of the application of the 5S principles in a Toronto hospital.


*I believe 5S preexisted in different forms, especially in the TWI cards during WWII.


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VSM start on (false) assumption

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Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a great tool, that got really popular and stands as a one of the icons of Lean.

In a nutshell, Value Stream Mapping is the schematic description of physical and information flow of a process or a value chain. It helps understanding the current situation and analyzing the causes of issues and limitations. VSM is followed by a design of the desired future state, called Value Stream Design (VSD). The third implicit part of a VSM-VSD is the action plan, made of the necessary actions for changing from current situation to the desired future state.

VSM is therefore an excellent trigger for continuous improvement and used as such in Lean initiatives.

What lean enthusiasts using VSM look for is a smooth, fast and direct flow from customers’ needs or desires to customers satisfaction, using only the very necessary resources. This requires the process supporting the flow to be as free of wastes as possible.

Wastes mean Muri, Muda and Mura, more about this >here<

It seems reasonable then to (re)visit the process and hunt down any waste in order to improve the flow.

Doing so is making an assumption, mostly unspoken and even unconscious, that the actual process is really useful and needs/deserves improvement.

Yet most of the lean enthusiast take a shortcut on the scientific thinking promoted by Lean, jumping too fast on Doing (read Mapping in this case) without giving enough time, if any, on Planning.

The Plan phase of the PDCA is meant to pose a hypothesis and to design an experiment carried out during the Do phase and assessed for validation or invalidation in the Check phase.

It therefore happens, more often than believed, that an unnecessary process gets attention, time and resources allocated for improvement when what was is really needed is simply to get rid of the whole process!

How can a process be useless?

It is common to setup a process in order to overcome a problem and literally forget to remove it once the problem is solved. Many processes are cluttered with sub-processes and procedures once created to bypass or overcome a problem that remain in place, consuming resources for absolutely no value creation.

In order to avoid such kind of embarrassing creation of muda (Value Stream Mapping an unnecessary process), each process candidate for a VSM should first be analysed for its purpose: what is the goal of this process? what problem this process is supposed to solve?

If there is no good reason for the process to exist, no need to map it, go for discarding it. (Note: good reasons may include “mandatory by regulation”)

For another variation on this subject, you may like to read VSM Pitfall: unnecessary process


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Muda, Muri, Mura

Subtle variations about waste.

Some Japanese words have made their way into the western business language since Lean spread worldwide and inspired all businesses. Three of them are quite well known: Muda, Muri, Mura.

MUDA

Muda is one of the Japanese words passed in the common language of industry. Muda stands as generic word for any and all of the infamous seven types of waste:

  • Waste from overproduction
  • Wastes from wait times
  • Waste caused by transportation
  • Wastage due to unnecessary inventories
  • Waste in the manufacturing process
  • Unnecessary movements
  • Wastage due to defective parts

These seven types of wastes were commonly observed in industrial workshops and proved pretty generic to many other activities, even in administration and services (with a little adaptation).

A later eighth type was identified and now commonly admitted in the list: the waste of human talent(s).

Muda are not the sole type of waste, but they are the most easy to understand and relatively easy to identify by observation. “Muda hunting” has become a regular activity, sometimes even popular activity in some companies.

MURI

Muri means unreasonableness, like the use of oversized or excessive means relative to the need or the desired result. Muri can be obvious, like hauling a small light box with a big truck or conversely overloading a smaller truck with large/heavy load.

Other muri may be more subtle like immobilizing large capacity pallet boxes for storing some small lightweight components when the need for storage could be solved with cheaper and easier to handle smaller boxes.

Muri is also about the physical overload, the hardship, exposure to mental stress, which lead to wasting energy, health and ultimately human capital.

Special attention should be paid when working postures include arm extension or leaning forward with the bust, back bent, leaning the head, torso rotations, squat, etc. Repeatedly pushing or pulling strongly, lifting heavy weights, using the fist as a hammer, and so on.

MURA, irregular, variability

Variability can take multiple aspects; different bottle filling levels in a filling line, varying cutting length, or inconsistent color tones in successive batches, etc.

The physical characteristics of a raw material may vary over time or according to different batches supplied; quantity, weight, length, texture, hardness, elasticity, etc. The settings of a machine may vary over time, human practices and actions may vary from one person to another and over one day.

The sources of variability are innumerable and variability generate waste as some of the output must be reworked or even discarded.

Variation in production rhythm often lead to install buffer stocks to smooth irregular flows. Note that acceptance of buffer stocks means creating MURI and MUDA. The Japanese approach seeks to eliminate the causes of irregularities and not hide them with buffers.

By gradually decreasing the size of buffer stocks, causes of irregularities are revealed and it is possible to eliminate / reduce them. The basic idea is that every workflow must flow smoothly like a river. If obstacles are disturbing its course, remove the obstacles, do not add water.

Summing up

Waste come in three major forms; Mura, Muri and Muda, which are sometimes difficult to distinguish from each other. Indeed, some wastage look like one of the seven types of Muda but could be considered a form of Mura (variability) as well. Others lead to discuss their essence is rather Muri (excess) or Muda, and so on.

Just accept that there are not always clear boundaries between them and it is a mere waste of time to discuss how to consider them.

Lean is relentless about removing waste, which is a way to solve problems and improve processes, not waste hunting per se.


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