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.

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