domingo, 24 de enero de 2016

Uber moves aren´t LEAN, ISO and how helpful really is & my thoughts on mexican workers.

This time there was so much going on, so wanted to write about 3 different topics cause I think, using Lean thinking, might be less of a problem and more an opportunity.  First there´s Uber and the controversial move that caused many drivers feel uncomfortable with the company. Then we will be discussing a little bit about how helpful really is ISO and finally a few thoughts on Mexican workers and Lean.

First Uber

This week many drivers said they were unhappy with the controversial decision the company took to lower the fare. This past week the company lower the rate in Mexico City (don´t know if they did this in all countries) but at least in Mexico city the minimum fare was reduced from $40.00 mexican pesos to $35.00, about 1.9 usd.  But this is the fare the customer pays for the service, while the commission charged for the drivers remained at 20%. The issue, the drivers say is that their costs are the same and in some cases higher, but as the price is lower and the commission they have to give to Uber is the same, of course the gain for drivers will be less. So they made a demonstration last friday, demanding going back to the same minimum fare of $40.00 to keep attractive being an Uber driver. They also claim that they weren´t consulted, nor told with time about this decision. They received an email, the night before the new fare was available. They also say that communication with Uber is difficult, since they communicate with the company only through e mail, and sometimes the response is too slow. I haven´t been able to see Uber comments on this regard, and they haven't said if they will go back to the $40.00. In the mean time the customer is happy, but customers may start being affected since some drivers, are requesting other drivers to stop working at night, which is the moment were Uber demand is higher, specially on weekends. Some people has said that if drivers do not want to work under those conditions, should leave the company. I believe a true Lean company, listen to the workers. They are engaged and they are part of the solutions and strategies of the company. I also understand that drivers working for Uber, aren't really Uber workers. But they share the problems, they are part of a great solution of transportation in the city and they, drivers, also share the profit that comes from every ride. A lean leader, could have informed a bit earlier to drivers, to let them know, what problem was the company trying to solve, and maybe, asking for some ideas. The communication, without knowing the whole story, is key and is critical. I think that there must be some true in driver´s statements claiming that communication is slow and inefficient. In a Lean environment workers are allowed to speak up, to point problems and provide solutions. Workers know better since they are the ones executing the operations and interacting with problems. In Uber's case they are the one's with instant feedback and interaction with customers, they should know a little about ways to improve. Since we don't have the company's side of the story I'm going to leave it here saying that if this is all true, the way Uber acted is everything but Lean.

How helpful does ISO really is?

This part of the post is also, totally my opinion in a subject that has been questioned, really since I started my professional life, 11 years ago. This last weeks, my company (Is not really my company, but the company I work for) wen´t through an on site audit to certify that it complies to ISO 9001:2008. That made me reflect on the fact that many people do not think ISO is worth it or help to make their jobs easier.

That of course, we know is a symptom with three possible root causes or a combination of the three. The first is that ISO doesn´t really help organisations to ensure a higher operational execution. The second is that the systems companies have are really complicated  and ISO is only exposing how inefficient and bureocratic they are. The third is just a missinterpretation on the requirements the norm demands. I believe is a combination of the three. Which one contributes the most, is hard to say. But I have work long enough in environments where ISO is implemented and where other systems co-exists and I think it is outdated. The key reason for having a system, and we all know it is critical to have the right system in place, is to deliver superior and consistent results. I think ISO main focus of standardisation is right. But as many have said, is not and end, is a mean to a superior vision or goal. Although standardisation is necessary and helps to execute processes in a consistent manner, it should´t be and excuse nor an obstacle for people to work in a standard way. Think about the way ISO looks how to control formats, the codification of formats and how things should be handled if we want to change a procedure or improve a process. The process is often long, involving many steps in order to have everything in conformance with the norm. I think this is because many companies, when going through ISO, create processes that are inefficient and in some cases really long. This has to do more with the company and the coach, interpreting the norm, helping and guiding the implementation. ISO is a norm, and like any other, is subject to personal interpretation at some points. The key for it to be really beneficial, I think is to keep two things in mind: the customer and that if implementing something bugs people, is an excuse or an obstacle to do things safer, easier, better, faster and cheaper, then is not really helpful and in my opinion should never be implemented in the company. If we can balance and practice ISO in an easy smooth manner, the benefits can be high. Specially on the standardisation process and to have written processes so other can learn new tasks and help to train others. 

Finally mexicans workers & Lean.

Many believe that Mexican workers are lazy, and look for ways to work less. As the famous BBC program Top Gear stated a few years ago, when criticised the Mexican Car Mastreta MXT. When talking about Lean, Mexican managers and workers always think:

Lean is Japanese, it´s easy for them, they are very disciplined, we are not. 

I believe that Mexican workers are curious and can be engaged at high levels. They are natural problem solvers and they like the quick, easy, simple solutions. I believe this caracteristics fit very well within a Lean culture. Mexican workers like to solve problems. They are curious and they like to learn new things. A Lean company allows workers to learn new things, allow experimentation and engagement. Mexican workers can speak up loud. This is also essential in a Lean culture. When a problem appears, workers must be encourage to point the problem and look for a solution. Managers must be ready to act quickly and engage workers in the solution, otherwise Mexican workers will loose interest and would be even harder to engage them again. Mexican workers, are like elephants; they never forget. There´s also another thing were workers in Mexico aren´t as good at it: planning and standardisation. We like to take hands on, to solve problems quick. There´s nothing wrong about it, but if solving a problem do not involve planning, the results could be disastrous, and as said before, Mexicans tend to loose interest real quick.
Mexican workers inspecting cars at a VW plant in Mexico.

Also, standardisation doesn´t come natural. For us is difficult to follow a procedure. I said it before, we are curious and like experimentation. While this could be useful in problem solving, may not be as helpful when executing a process. Since variation introduced by the workers will often make it difficult for managers to understand why the process is behaving the way it is. Fortunately, I have found that leadership is the best way to avoid this obstacles and turn this weaknesses into strengths. Simply by talking to workers, asking for their ideas and opinions and respond quickly and objective to their demands. Sounds easy, but it´s harder. Specially if the company doesn´t have a culture of "Respect for People" it becomes really hard to engage workers and having them to understand that they are as important as anybody in the company and that their work is appreciated. Without that, workers just go to work for their pay check, with no other interest. Not very different to workers in other countries right?

Glad you went through this. Please leave a comment or share with someone who might be interested. 

lunes, 18 de enero de 2016

Searching within... Toyota Kata

This time, I`m writing about some of the lessons that I have found within the magnificent book, Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. You can get a direct access here and understand into dept what Toyota Kata is and how you can develop the scientific thinking behind this great book. Today`s post is also related to other great book I`m reading; The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I will proceed to explain how this two books relate each other, and why I think they are both right.

Chapter 4 in Toyota Kata is about knowing yourself. It is a chapter in which Mike Rother explains clearly the evolution of one piece flow. Through his research it is explained that the very first company that tried to achieve a flow of one piece at a time: which is a key concept in LEAN, was Ford Motor Company. In this chapter it is explained the evolution from the T model assembly line,  from static bays where all materials and workers walked to the body and started assembling the parts to the idea of one infinite conveyor transporting raw materials all the way until the car was completed. The solution the engineers at that time used was... open holes on the walls of the building to connect all different processes to achieve a better flow. We have to remember that at that time, the T model was assembled in one building with different levels. Where processes took place at different levels and as the processes continued, down the building, final line, located at ground level (you can see a drawing of the building in the book to get the idea of what was like to build a car in the 1910´s). 

Highland Park Michigan.
All this story I`m using is to illustrate the statement done at the end of the previous chapter in that book. There Rother explains the way the cost/benefit analysis is used at Toyota, and concludes that :

We should´t spend much time benchmarking. We are the benchmark.
Is obvious. This statement is clear, if we know that Kata is basically a thinking model of; first, define What our current condition is? Then, Where do we want to be next? and finally What are the obstacles preventing from getting to the desired condition? All this thinking implies analysing ourselves, or our companies. 

Benchmarking ourselves. 

I have written a few about my days at Ford. I remember that during the first months, as the plant was being prepared for the launch of Fiesta, we had to read a lot about Toyota, and then do some training about tools such as FMEA, 8D`s, SPC, etc. The vision, was to create the best manufacturing system on the world, and of course, our model was Toyota. We read the Toyota Way, the Toyota Way Fieldbook, we learned about kitting, one piece flow, standard work and also about the Toyota Way of Lead; Learning to Lead at Toyota  which is a HBR article. This article had a major impact in myself, as also did Toyota Way and all the things I learned there. I also remember that one of the early presentations I saw, was about Toyota Yaris, a B segment Vehicle that at that time was the Best in Class, and as we were preparing ourselves to launch Fiesta, Toyota was the automaker to emulate. During my years there, I was able to participate in many Benchmarks, but in the end, they brought little value, since in order to make a big change in our vehicles, a major development was needed. And often cost/benefit analysis showed major changes didn´t make sense. To my surprise, I didn´t know that it was Ford the very first who tried to achieve the ideal state of flow. The highland park story, mentioned above was unknown to me, and I`m sure it is the same for many of the colleagues working at Ford. The Paradox is that Ford was trying to be like Toyota, studying the Lean methods and principles, and I believe that similar conclusions could be achieved by examining its own story. 

The Happiness Hypothesis

This Book from Jonathan Heidt is written on the idea of testing ancient philosophy with modern science and studies. The main idea the book examines, or at least one of the main ideas the book studies, is the one that says that happiness comes from within and that we are a product of our own mind. One of the conclusions that I remember is that both statements are right. In order to be happy, to find joy, must find purpose and realize that our life has a meaning. But also that our environment has the right conditions to produce happiness in us. The book states that there are certain conditions that help people to feel happier, for example, being married. I think  that is better explained as Jon said to me: 
The secret is... to be embedded, connected.... happiness comes from between.
So, what about it?

Going back to Kata. The conclusion I have for this post is to think about the times we have tried to use a tool or to implement a practice from a competitor or from other industry. Sometimes after conducting some benchmark, we have concluded that the specific solution may not apply to us, because of many constraints in our environment. Does that mean that we should stop doing benchmarks? No. I believe is important to know whats going on with our competitors, or with other great companies. But I believe that in order to be efficient, to improve faster and to become lean, we must identify our current condition, where do we want to be, and then, analyze, what constraints prevent us from getting there. This is key, cause knowing ourselves, will lead to more efficient solutions. Solutions that will work within our environments and will fit our needs. And more important, will be difficult to copy, cause they have been tailored for us. I think this is one of many secrets Toyota has taught us. Do you notice another paradox here?

Thank´s for reading. Would love to read your comments below.  

domingo, 3 de enero de 2016

Elevator in the bakery... Lean bakery?

Happy new year.

2016 has started and is exciting to see, what new challenges brings. 

This is a warm up post. Today I take a simple example from a local bakery to write about the importance of providing the right conditions so workers are able to perform better. An elevator inside a bakery, receives my attention and makes me remember a warehouse that needs to look at this small bakery. 

Is great to have you reading this. I'm sure many of you still have days off so probably have extra time to surf the web and read interesting stuff. For guys like me, everything starts again tomorrow. But before my routine starts again, wanted to post a reflection about a bakery I visited today. Just a small post to warm up, the year ahead. 

Local Bakery. 
It was my son's birthday and wanted to buy a nice chocolate cake. I was able to find one at good price and when I was heading to pay, I noticed a big industrial elevator right behind the cashier. Well, it wasn't behind, it was in an angle with enough space to be used. I noticed all kinds of visual aids, as well as safety rules to operate the elevator. This elevator, was obviously an industrial one. It didn't look cheap. Certainly was expensive, but immediately remember one warehouse I know that needs to have one of those. Remember that management, at that warehouse didn't consider a priority to install an elevator or any lifting device to help the workers to place or pick parts from upper levels. Of course an elevator would have helped to move things easier, safer, better, and faster. But as the budget  didn't allow, this suggestion wasn't even considered. 

So, the fact that a bakery considered installing one at this store tells me a lot about management. Obvioulsy, a bakery needs to move a lot of raw materials to prepare bread, cakes, etc. every day. So, for me, considering an elevator means that management understands the hard work it takes to move all materials to the upper level, or bring them down stairs. Of course, ergonomic issues start appearing when you continuously have to move things around to get things done. So, it is sad that a warehouse, in other industry, doesn't consider providing the right conditions for the workers a priority. Having the right conditions often means fewer risks (safer environment), the opportunity to do things better, faster and without stress for people. Besides, we should consider that in the case of the bakery, the core business is to make cakes, not to carry heavy sacks upstairs. 

Industrial elevator.
By this, I do not mean that the warehouse I´m referring to, needs to invest a huge amount of money installing an elevator. There are other options that can be considered, to help the people move materials from or to the upper levels. Providing the right conditions, doesn´t have to be expensive. But even if it is expensive, the pay off will be unmeasurable. Because people will realize that management really cares about them. And the ROI can be easily calculated considering delays, damages to parts, and the impact on productivity.

I don´t know if this bakery, really think the way I do, about providing the right conditions for people, or if they even know lean or kaizen. I don´t know if this thinking extends to other practices or processes they handle. But I would like to think they do. After all is just the third day of the new year, and this year seems promising. 

Hopefully that warehouse gets better conditions so people can perform better. 

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.