jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Lean is simple, but it requires structure & discipline

For those like me who like to watch soccer, will find that team FC Barcelona is a team that every soccer fan loves to see. It doesn´t matter if one is fan from that team or not, simple the way Barcelona is playing is fantastic. They, as well as lean manufacturers, share a philosophy and they practice it when they play. Their philosohpy is about creating the game, holding the ball, being patient and create spaces between enemy lines, where they can take advantage with the amazing forwards Barcelona has. When they loose the ball, they try to recover it as fast as they can. They feel comfortable with the ball at their feet.  Soccer looks easy when is played by them. Simple and easy looks lean when properly executed. The workers seem to perform at a smooth pace. The harmony  and flow are present in all operations. As well as team work and as well as engagement from employees. Results are the natural consequences when lean is properly executed. As well as Barcelona´s results.   
Luis Suarez, Neymar and Messi form the fearsome front for
the FC Barcelona
Some people may differ from this perspective that Barcelona´s way of playing is lean or even simple. Since they structure so much every play. Sometimes they need to have the ball, for long periods, before they even suggest a play in the rival area. But when they execute, Soccer seems simple. It is true, that in this comparison, Barcelonas way of play is like lean. Simple, effective but needs a structure, and needs discipline. In both, soccer and business, patience is key. 

Lean needs structure.

Some people say that Lean is simple. But in order for Lean to work in it´s full power, needs a good structure. You cannot just say that will implement a few tools and will become Lean the next morning. It requires training, patience and understanding of the principles leveraged by companies, such as Toyota. When you walk into a Lean organization. The tools are evident, and sometimes easy to use. What we don't see is behind the ropes. Behind the ropes, there is a well organised structure that helps to sustain Lean. Lets say that in order to shine, needs someone to do the dirty job. Materials management departments are the greatest example for this. They allow to move the materials across the organization, so that the worker installing a tail lamp, installs the right lamp, at the exact moment, in the right sequence. In order for the worker to do that, a manufacturing team may have studied carefully the necessary conditions under which humans are more likely to perform better. Those engineers may have studied and formulated the right conditions to be applied in the floor; such as complexity in the work station, the right amount of tools the worker needs to have. Too many tools and the worker may fall behind cycle time, since there is a high possibility that his mind make a mistake and choose the wrong tool, and would loose precious seconds. Too little and may not be able to perform according to the plan, and may produce a defect. Things like this, help a worker to be really be efficient at his job. What we might see, is a well trained worker, performing according to a standard, but what we don`t see is what´s behind the ropes: the design of the work station´s conditions. 
Ford Fiesta at the Cuautitlan Stamping and Assembly
Plant in Mexico.
In the automotive industry there are different teams, with "different" purposes, that sometimes seem to be opposite. For example the manufacturing team typically sets its targets according to productivity, improve cycle time, increase value added content at work stations, make process efficient enough so less workers may be utilised to assemble a car, etc. The torques team may be involved in ensuring all torques are tightened according to spec, make more audits to make sure the bolts are tightened correctly, they may even work with suppliers to get rid of noise in the bolts coming to the factory. The materials management team may be worried about stopping the line, about meeting cycle times, about scanning 100% of materials to ensure they are delivering the right materials at the right workstations. And supervisors may be worried about andon lights, analyze them and understand why certain workstations call for help more often than others. They all strive to provide the best conditions to the workers performing in the line. The worker doesn´t have to worry about not having the right parts available, or the right tools, or the error proofing devices to avoid defects on the line. That way they can fully focus on the process, get deep understanding of it, and put their brains to work thinking about improve the process, how to make more with the same or less, or suggesting subtle changes to sequences to avoid defects or improve productivity.

But Lean is simple right?

Yes, the simplicity in this example I`m giving is that if you provide the right conditions to the worker, the worker will perform according to a plan. For the process to be simple, you have to make it simple. But for the process to achieve simplicity, may require manpower, tools, dedication and constant experimentation. Lets not forget creativity and engagement. The equation is simple, better conditions, will produce the best possible results.
Many people do not understand this, and believe that just implementing a few tools, will turn the company or the process into Toyota. This is far from truth. Sometimes you will need to invest, to use people, to use some resources so they will give you knowledge. The knowledge will be used at your convenience. To take the best decisions and to ultimately make your process better. Typically, the best process, is the simplest process. But in order to achieve simplicity, patience, structure, methodology and a lot of time is required. If you do not agree with me, do you think Toyota became the world´s greatest manufacturer in 10 years?

So, in the end Barcelona is Lean.

I believe they are lean at some degrees. As i mentioned, you may watch Lionel Messi, dribbling against defenders with grace  and speed. But sometimes for Messi to shine the way he does, the team sets the structure and the pace for him to take advantage of it. We may only see Lionel scoring, once, or twice. But the work behind that is what allows him to be the shining star in the best team of the world. I guess the lesson is, if you wan't to be in the best company in the world, you better be prepared to experiment, learn and to get knowledge from your process, so one day, can be simple and lean.

Thanks for reading, I wan't to read if you agree or not. Don't be shy and leave a message.

jueves, 19 de noviembre de 2015

Being like water, Lean Six Sigma or Lean and Six Sigma?

In recent years, many companies have developed their own lean version of the TPS, to try to keep competitive and get advantages against competition. Some others have incorporated Six Sigma methodology to their Lean based system. The general idea is that combining two powerful methodologies, or systems into one is better to achieve results even faster than using just one.
I remember that during my years in Ford, Six Sigma was the main methodology used for problem solving, even though  the 8D´s were also used, along with some other statistical tools to help identify were the root cause of the problem was. At the same time Ford used some lean tools to try to build cars more efficiently, such as Andon buttons, kitting, visual management, one piece flow principles, etc. I remember that one of the managers was a big fan of the TPS and the Toyota philosophy. He actually worked for a couple of years in Japan for Mazda, during the period when Ford and Mazda were working closely and Ford had a major participation on Mazda stocks. 
I guess that in this environment Lean and Six Sigma were used successfully, but sometimes felt that Six Sigma was more important when solving a problem. 
Today there are a lot of organisations using Lean Six Sigma, and I have identify common mistakes when combining these two powerful methods or philosophies. 

DMAIC above all.

When solving a problem, I´ve always thought that one should use the tool that fits the problem better. Or solves the problem better should I say. This means that If one is able to get deep knowledge about an issue and therefore develop a simple great solution, should´t matter if a 5 whys was used, or if the answer was obtained through a regression.  Some organizations using Lean Six Sigma, seem really obsessed about using DMAIC methodology. DMAIC as some may know is the Six Sigma cycle to improve processes that already exist, and through the use of this cycle, it is expected that processes experience a dramatic improvement. But I have found this isn`t always practical. As there are  problems, where a well conducted 5 whys or even an 8D´s are better tools according to the nature of the problem. 
But LSS organizations, seem to be inflexible about it and some of them demand that the standard problem solving technique would be DMAIC even if this isn`t practical. Organizations obsessed with a single standard problem solving tool, or template create bureaucracy and excess motion. Wastes that Lean wants to eliminate. The obsession about using an specific tool, makes solving problems a slow process. If to this point you do not agree with me, try conducting a Value Stream Transformation and make it fit into the DMAIC cycle.

Six Sigma can be applied to everything.

Other pitfall i have witnessed is that organizations think that 6 sigma could be applied to everything. This isn't completely wrong, but there are certain environments where 6 sigma could be better applied than others. For example, industries or organisations where variation is high and processes seem to be really complicated. Where there seem to be multiple factors creating an specific issue, could be a good point where 6 sigma could work. But definitely there are other environments where may not work as good. These environments are where no SPC programs, or techniques exist, or where there isn't in place a good system to get reliable information from the process. The question I think, isn't if 6 Sigma can be applied to any situation. Instead we should ask ourselves if 6 sigma should be applied to every single situation. Is there another tool that could be applied in a simpler or more effective way for this specific situation? Flexibility when solving problems or improving processes is the key. It was Bruce Lee who said:

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Every single improvement is a project. 

Some companies using LSS, believe that every single improvement should be a 6 Sigma project. Even when the solution is obvious. Personally I don´t like the word project, because a project requires someone to own it, and also brings the implicit thinking that the project has an owner and he/she should worry about it, not me. Also It implies that a project is something that has a beginning and ending. Lean as most of us know, is a journey that never ends. 

Finally, the last mistake I have seen about the use of 6 Sigma, or obsession with 6 Sigma should I say, is that as 6 Sigma is often used for issues where the answer is evident. 6 sigma works better where the solution is unknown. If you already know the answer, why wasting time justifying your decision using DMAIC, if the solution could be applied now, and not after 2 hours of statistical debate? Solving problems, improving processes is critical. Is the core for great companies. Using the right tool, is critical. Doing it fast, efficient and simple is the key to succeed in the long run. There fore, Become like water, my friends.

Thanks for reading, I´d love to read your thoughts, please leave a comment.

miércoles, 4 de noviembre de 2015

Review of the week: Understanding Variation, The key to managing chaos

As Black Belt, got to admit, that sometimes one tend to think that everything is statistics. That a statistical tool can reveal a relationship between a critical x and the output. That inertia of starting analyzing if a set of data is normal or not, if the cp or cpk is higher than 1.66 or if the gage R&R used to obtained that data is reliable.

Yes, of course, Green or Black Belts have a tendency of jumping right away and perform statistical analysis. This is exactly when this great book make sense. Understanding Variation, The key to managing chaos, isn`t a book about how to use tools to perform fancy analysis. Is about using the right tools to take decisions and to understand what`s going on on our processes. The book is more an eye opener about how to use the basic control charts to understand the variation that affects a process.

It is essential to understand that there are extraordinary events that happen and affect the performance of a process. It is important to note this, in order to decide whether or not to take action to maintain control over a process. This is a key rule to understand and remind when analysing data. The fact that a single point is out of control doesn't mean the process is completely out of control. When a point exhibits an unusual behaviour, we need to ask ourselves if there was an external agent that cause the process to behave this way. In this case, we need to examine this point alone, and not the whole process. The process may be well in control,  but this point may reflect external causes affecting the process. In this case tools to examine special cause variation may help; 8Ds. So, if one single point doesn´t always mean that we need to take action or doesn´t always mean that the process is performing bad, maybe a couple of points would do the trick right? Well, that`s another thing this book explains better. Sometimes, specially when we analyze results, most organizations tend to compare one single month vs the same month from last year, or if we want to analyze further we may add the previous month from this year in the equation. As it is displayed in the book, this isn´t enough either. Many companies today focus on the current month, if we´re lucky, in the current year. Sometimes 6 or 12 data points doesn´t offer the whole information. In other to correctly identify if a process has changed; improved or worsened. The book shows some examples on how, looking just a portion of data, might not provide enough information to take the right decisions; interpreting this data would lie to us. In some cases we need to go back 2 or even three years to clearly see why sometimes the process does achieve the targets and why some other cases do not. This is another key rule. If a process hasn´t been changed for better or worse it is impossible that alone would be able to always meet targets. In this sense, the book will give an specific observation: arbitrary targets are exactly that, arbitrary. And sometimes do not have something to do with the process itself. A great insight in this subject is given in the book.

When a process looks stable, without points behaving in weird ways, it is necessary to analyze the process as a whole. In this case, this is common cause variation. Under this scenario six sigma tools are useful. Either to reduce variation or to make a shift in the process. This is key, because, how many times a manager has requested explanations on a single point? how many times a manager has ignored the sings from a process requesting help? Understanding this two types of variation will help to any person who examines a process to distinguish when action is needed and when isn´t. This book is a great reminder of the basic statistical rules used in SPC to observe a process and how to correctly look at data to take the best decisions the process can tell. The book includes some study cases so the reader is able to understand and see clearly how the traditional method to analyze data reveals a reality completely different when using the right tool and applying the principles of variation.

So, no matter if you are related to SPC or 6 sigma methodologies, or if you just want to understand what`s going on on your process, this book will help you to understand what the process is telling you. In consequence will reveal the voice of the process and will help you to take the most appropriate decision.
Really a great, simple and powerful book for any manager to read.

Thank´s for reading. I`d love to read your thoughts. Please, don't be shy and leave a comment.