Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's About Attitude

I recently learned a valuable lesson about what it takes to make things better.

I was doing a Measurement Systems Analysis (an MSA, sometimes called a Gage R&R) for an automotive firm in the Piedmont area of central North Carolina. When I charted the results of the MSA, the graphs clearly showed the operators could use a powder scale reliably and repeatably. All three operators measured 10 different weights and got the same measurement each time they tried, and all three operators got the same measurements as each other. Great stuff! However, when they had to measure the actual product (a metallic powder) the results were not as good.

Gage R&R is a good thing.
Of course, I reviewed the results with some of the most experienced managers in the company. These were manufacturing experts with years of experience in their field, and we couldn't help but brainstorm ideas for improvement. When I went over the same results with front line employees, some of whom had less than a year's experience on the job, they quickly came up with many of the same suggestions for improvement. Most of them were easy, and none of them was very expensive.

So, we had an area that managers and workers both suspected needed improvement (they were right), and both knew how to improve. At the same time, no one had taken the initiative and made those changes.
  • The question is, I believe, how do we foster a continuous improvement mindset that makes it okay for ordinary people to fix what bugs them?
  • Or maybe the question is, what do we do, as a company, that stifles people's natural desire to take control of their environment and make things better?
These are questions that are worth your thoughtful consideration. When you have the answer to these questions for your company, you will have something truly valuable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Home Place--a Key Concept

Your country is your Home Place.

I was consulting at a Carolina company recently and stopped by the engineering department for a meeting. They were fortunate enough to have a lovely kitchenette in their office suite, with their own microwave! Awesome for them. Beside the microwave a laminated sign read:

"If you use the microwave, clean up after yourself!"

Good enough. I can't complain about folks wanting to use a clean microwave. Hey, leave it better than you found it, right? So, because I'm such an anal retentive nut job, I immediately looked around for some Windex and paper towels so I could clean the microwave, if I wanted too. I saw four bottles of hand soap and a dish rag, but no all purpose cleaning spray or paper towels. I could have taken five minutes and hunted through the cabinets to find what I needed, but why should I have to? If I was serious about wanting a clean microwave, shouldn't I keep my tools close to hand? Shouldn't there be a spot where those important tools go automatically? I'm thinking a spot, a HOME PLACE, and a sign: "Paper Towels and All Purpose Cleaner for Microwave." I would put this right on the counter next to the microwave, or on top of the microwave, but you could make a case for labeling a cabinet and keeping your tools there. Just as good.

The point is to have a Home Place, and you don't have a Home Place without a place and a label, a sign, a pictogram, an arrow or something to indicate what goes there. I know it sounds stupid or over-controlling, but think about your own kitchen. You don't have to look for a spatula. You know exactly where you keep the stupid spatula, and you don't need a label to find it! But have you ever tried to help your mother-in-law find a spatula in your kitchen?

"Honey bunches, where do you keep the spatula?"

"It's in the drawer, Ma!"

"Which drawer, sweetums?"

"By the refrigerator, Ma!"

"Which side, honey?"

"Left side!"

"I don't see it, dear one."

"Second drawer!"

Long pause with much clanging of metal kitchen knick-knacks, followed by mumbling that might be curses from the old country.

Find your tools in their Home Place.
You wince, get up, walk into the kitchen, cross over to the refrigerator, gently coax your mother-in-law aside, reach into the back left corner of the second drawer and pull out a spatula. Of course, that's when your mother-in-law says, "Oh," heavy sigh. "You kids don't have a plastic one?"

Anyway, if you want a clean break room, or folks to work the same way on all shift, or people to not wander around for five to ten minutes at a time looking for stuff, you may want to consider giving important items a Home Place, with a label.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Does it Make Sense on Paper?

One of my main Crap Detector tools is to ask, "Does this even  make sense on paper?" I mean honestly! Could this or that ever work? Often the answer is no.

I went to visit a university in Pennsylvania in the middle of January. No surprise, it snowed. No surprise, I wore a warm winter coat to the campus. No surprise, at one point I had to use the bathroom. No surprise, I wanted to take my coat off. So, where do I hang it? Nowhere! No coat hooks in the stalls. No hooks in the bathroom, No hooks in the hallways or in the classrooms. No cloak room to leave my coat. No lockers available. So, where does my coat go? Thrown over the stall door or dumped on the floor. These are not great choices for an adult.

Do you think any of the student's wore coats to class?
Things like that make me wonder what goes on in people's heads. Doesn't this bug anyone else who goes to that school? Have none of the maintenance guys ever used the bathroom? No. Wait! THEY have lockers, with coat hooks. They don't notice the problem, because they don't have a problem. Neither do the professors. They have offices. They have actual closets with hangars. They don't have a problem. On the other hand, they have 2,500 students throwing their coats on the floor in the bathroom. Does that make any sense? Is that a good thing?

So, if you look at the situation, it clearly doesn't work on paper. They have potentially 2,500 unhappy customers, and the problem remains completely invisible to the people who could solve it. Almost worse, getting this problem fixed at a university would almost take an Act of Congress. It would take months, if it could be done at all. That bugs me. If I had been a student there, I would have bought a couple of coat hooks and hung them up when no one was looking. Done!

It does get me thinking about this question: "How can we see, what our customer's see?" Think about that the next time you sit down for a cup of hot coffee on a cold day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lean or JDI?

Sometimes, people think of Lean Manufacturing as being very complicated. It doesn't have to be. There's a wonderful Lean technique, it is so simple that it's really advanced; it's called JDI or Just Do It. Here is an example.

I live in the country and ride a 920 pound Gold Wing motorcycle. I noticed it was getting harder and harder to pull out of my carport and get my bike turned around in my backyard. When I actually stopped and looked at the problem, it was easy to see that over time, my nice little path had become covered with huge hickory nuts and assorted stones, sticks and roots.

The solution? Just rake the darned crap out of the way and be done with it. Just Do It! Five minutes later, I was done. My solution took no money and hardly any time or effort. Now, my morning commute is not just more comfortable, it is also easier on my tires, shocks and springs and much safer.

A quick look revealed the problem. No wonder I was having a hard time.

My Just Do It solution? Rake the darned rocks and nuts into the woods. JDI!

Monday, September 19, 2016

This Guy Had a Problem, He Fixed It

I believe that college is way, WAY too expensive. It bugs me that people become wage slaves for decades to earn something they are sure they must have. Apparently, it bugged this guy too. In this TedX talk, Scott shares how he got an MIT eduction in computer science for only $2,000.00. Clever.

The Easiest Part of Fixing What Bugs You

Making things better can be tricky. The tricky part is learning to notice what's wrong in an active way, not just in a bitching and moaning and blowing-it-off sort of way. Fortunately, there is a trick to it. What usually bugs us is waste, and there is an acronym that helps us learn to see waste. The acronym is T.I.M. W.O.O.D.S. Meaning:

Over-production (the number one waste)
Defects and
Skills (the saddest waste).

When you get in the habit of learning to recognize these forms of waste, you are halfway done fixing them.

So, if recognizing waste is a trick you can learn, what's the easiest part of continuous improvement? The easiest part is, of course, coming up with solutions! As soon as you see the problem, you automatically see the solution. That's how our brains work. We are problem solving machines! We are making too many donuts, is the waste of over production. The solution? Stop making so many extra donuts! The answer is in the question.

Simple. Right? So, why is continuous improvement so difficult? Because it's always hard to change. It is always hard to get things done.

My suggestion is to schedule a half hour every morning, for making improvements. Make it part of your morning cleanup, your morning preparation, your morning routine. You grab a coffee, you clean up your work area, you make an improvement. When you are working in groups, you take a step forward on whatever your assignment was. Look up busiest day for donut sales? Done. Next day, breakdown donut sales by types. Done. Next day, put together a donut graph. Just one step forward every morning, first thing.

First thing every morning, make your life a little better. It's addictive. Especially when today's improvement makes every day a little bit better.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fix What Bugs You With Systems Thinking

Welcome to my Lean, Visual Workplace and Systems Thinking blog. My name is Rodney Robbins. I'm a long time quality manager and a big fan of FIXING WHAT BUGS YOU. Things that don't work right drive me nutty! I hate it when things that are supposed to work, don't.

  • Didn't anyone think this through before they started? 
  • Didn't anyone check on it to see if it was working right? 
  • Doesn't anyone care how very, very unhappy the customer is about the delays and defects? 
The short answer is, no. The longer answer is, probably not in ages.

Hey, we are all busy. We all wear too many hats. We all have day jobs, night jobs, family work, home work, yard work and, of course, our daily cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring to do. What is hard to notice, but oh so cool when you do, is what is not working. What is not working is your guide to a better life. We need to learn to embrace those things. Love them. They are great big fat signals saying, "Fix me. Fix ME! If you will only fix me, your life will have less stress, you'll have more time, things will run smoother. Please, I'm the nail sticking my head up. Please, hit me with a hammer now!"

So, as you notice what bugs you, consider how everything works together As A System. Stop. Take a step back, and think about how things and information flow into the process, get changed and flow out. Dishes pile up all over the kitchen table and counters. Dishes get dumped into hot, soapy water. Dishes go onto racks, then into cupboards. Which one of those steps is the worst nightmare? How do the steps, er, piles interact? Is there ANYTHING we could do about ANY of these stages?

If you want things to get better, noticing what bugs you is the first step. A good next step is to stop, step back and wonder how everything interacts. That may be all you need to do to get started making things better.