Sunday, September 25, 2005

How Toyota Turns Workers Into Problem Solvers

Topic: Management Improvement

How Toyota Turns Workers Into Problem Solvers, Sarah Jane Johnston interview of Steven Spear.

It is our conclusion that Toyota has developed a set of principles, Rules-in-Use we've called them, that allow organizations to engage in this (self-reflective) design, testing, and improvement so that (nearly) everyone can contribute at or near his or her potential, and when the parts come together the whole is much, much greater than the sum of the parts.

The main difficulty is not a knowledge gap, but a performance gap. Most of what Toyota does has been published in numerous books (The Toyota Way, The Machine That Changed the World...) and articles (see see Curious Cat links to books and articles on Toyota's management ideas). Reading that information is wise, but that is the easy part. The difficult part is actually managing more effectively. Some of the concepts can be difficult to accept but they really are not too difficult to understand.

We've observed that Toyota, its best suppliers, and other companies that have learned well from Toyota can confidently distribute a tremendous amount of responsibility to the people who actually do the work, from the most senior, expeirenced [sic] member of the organization to the most junior. This is accomplished because of the tremendous emphasis on teaching everyone how to be a skillful problem solver.

This idea is simple. Creating an environment where this is actual the way things are, not just the way things are said to be, is difficult. That is why I believe so strongly in Deming's management philosophy. The organization must be viewed as a whole. Benefits can be gained by adopting some concepts in a piecemeal manner. However, many benefits accrue only when the positive interactions between Toyota Production System (TPS - Lean) concepts occur (as systems thinking would predict).

I'm fundamentally an empiricist, so I have to go back to what we have observed. In organizations in which managers really live by these Rules, either in the Toyota system or at sites that have successfully transformed themselves, there is a palpable, positive difference in the attitude of people that is coupled with exceptional performance along critical business measures such as quality, cost, safety, and cycle time.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Operational Definitions and Data Collection

Topic: Management Improvement

Americans' Dirty Secret Revealed by Bjorn Carey
See also: Google News on washing hands - Soap and Detergent Association press release

A study released recently spawned a flurry of articles on washing hands. I have seen such reporting before and again I find it interesting (as sad as that might be). The stories repeatedly say things like: "Men's hands dirtier than women's." The study actual was focused on the percentage of people who washed their hands. While there is likely a correlation, making such leaps in reporting data is not wise. This example is often found in the data used in organizations. Where interpretations of the data are given as the facts instead of the data itself. However that is not what I find most interesting.

Instead I find the lack of operational definition interesting. In many of the articles they have quotes like:

In a recent telephone survey, 91 percent of the subjects claimed they always washed their hands after using public restrooms. But, when researchers observed people leaving public restrooms, only 83 percent actually did so.

Only 75 percent of men washed their hands compared to 90 percent of women, the observations revealed.

A few of the links contain something similar to: "Yesterday's results come from the American Society of Microbiology's latest look at how many people take what is considered the single easiest step to staying healthy: spending 20 seconds rubbing with soap under the faucet." from the Winston Salem Journal.

This leads me to suspect that "washing your hands" might not be operationally defined as running your hands under the water but instead using soap and water for something close to 20 seconds but even in sources explaining the methodology they don't describe what is considered "washing your hands." I have asked them what was considered "washing your hands."

I have emailed to see if I can get a clearer idea of what the operational definition was. I'll update this if I get additional details.

When collecting and reporting data it is important to include the operational definitions associated with that data.

Links: Center for Disease Control Clean Hands Save Lives "Handwashing is one of the most important things you can do to keep from getting sick and from spreading germs to others."


Topic: Internet - Google

The Google blog has a new post on: Googlebombing 'failure'

Basically they explain that Google is not making a judgment that the result top results for "failure" represent Google's opinion of who is a failure. The top result is the Biography of President George W. Bush on the web site, and the second result is Michael Moore's home page.

As Google explains:

By using a practice called googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce odd results. In this case, a number of webmasters use the phrases [failure] and [miserable failure] to describe and link to President Bush's website, thus pushing it to the top of searches for those phrases.

That explanation makes sense.

We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we're also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up.

I think here their post gets a bit tricky. I think it makes sense that they say they don't condone "the practice of googlebombing" but exactly what the difference between that and the "collective wisdom" of the web that they tap to determine what words people use to link to a web page is tough to say. If a bunch of web authors think the photos of Olympic National Park on our web site are worthy of linking to that is exactly the type of information Google takes advantage of to provide relevant search results.

Many web authors do provide links because they believe the site they link to is of value and hope others go to that site. For example, Trickle Up is a great charity for providing opportunity to those with limited resources. Google wants to take advantage of that link as one very small factor in providing search results.

How you decide when the words an author uses to link to a page are worthy of consideration by Google's algorithms and when the words are pranks would be a difficult task. Google does have to take into account that this type of effort (targeted text in links to a page) is exactly what SEO efforts focus on, and I am sure Google takes steps to limit the bad effects (on search results) that those efforts can have. These "failure" examples are just temporary cases that will fade over time (I believe). Probably due to the wide spread viral like nature of the links, they are not as easy to identify and block with algorithm tuning.

So I think they are right when they conclude with the less than definitive:

Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.

At what point opinions of web authors become a prank, is difficult to judge, in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

25 New MacArthur Fellows

25 New MacArthur Fellows Announced
press release
overview of fellows

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today named 25 new MacArthur Fellows for 2005. Each received a phone call from the Foundation this week informing them that they will be given $500,000 in '“no strings attached' support over the next five years.

I think the fellowships are a great idea: give money to people who have done excellent work. I am not sure of the motivations of the MacArthur Foundation, but if it were me I would trust by providing funds to those people they would (as a group, not every single person) take advantage of those funds to create great advances for all of humanity.

As I have mentioned before I also like, Trickle Up. While different in actual, to me there is a similarity: money is given that provides opportunity that I trust will make for a better world. The fellowship site does mention: "unrestricted fellowships to individuals across all ages and fields who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work" which indicates they do expect conduit creative work even though the fellowship is unrestricted.

It is great to see examples of those doing work worthy of such high praise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Healthcare Costs Spike Again

Healthcare Costs Spike Again by Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money:

The premium growth rate this year – 9.2 percent – outpaced by miles both the growth in wages (2.7 percent) and inflation (3.5 percent)
since 2000 premiums for family coverage have gone up 73 percent. During the same period, wages rose just 15 percent.

This is not sustainable. I feel like Brad Setser talking about the USA trade deficiets (by the way if you have any interest in economics, or international trade, or investing you really should read his economics blog - it is great). Deming noted excessive health care costsas a deadly disease to the American economy and the news just gets year after year. This system is obviously broken and in need of fundemental change.

Related Health Care posts:
Health Care improvement articles and studies via the Curious Cat Management Improvement Library.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Edson Puts The Squeeze On Waste

Edson Puts The Squeeze On Waste by Ron Richardson

"One of our wrong, old core beliefs was that inventory is good," says Hattin. "We thought it provided rapid availability to parts and allowed us to get to work quicker. That was the first sacred cow sacrificed on the altar of Lean management." He says there were some veteran employees who felt "a good deal of pain" when the old way of operating was tossed out.

"Our mantra now is unless we have an order for it, we don't build it. That and some multi-skilled plant people - for which we pay them extra for the additional skills have made us more effective."

Accepting lean ideas is not always easy. Lean thinking requires a new way of viewing the world. The system must change for the methods to work.

In doing its own thing, Edson scrapped a computer-based kanban system in favor of its manual set up because, as Hattin explains,"it's self-managed and provides quick visibility on the tasks on hand. "The investment was reasonable - about $78 for a peg board and color cards. The best thing about it is that everyone can see what's going on in about 10 seconds and knows what the next job is."

Advanced technology is great, but as a hammer is not always the best tool, similarly the most technologically sophisticated solution is not always the best solution.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Measurement and Data Collection

Topic: Management improvement

This is my response to the Deming Electronic Network message on measurement.

I find it useful, to assure that data collection is a wise use of
resources, to ask what will be done with the results. If you don't
have an answer for how you will use the data, once you get it, then you
probably shouldn't waste resources collecting it (and I find there is
frequently no plan for using the results).

I have found it helpful to ask: what will you do if the data we
collect is 30? What will you do if it is 3? The answer does not need
to be some formula, if 30 then x. But rather that the results would
be used to help inform a decision process to make improvements
(possibly the decision to focus resources in that area). I find, that
asking that question often helps reach a better understanding of what
data is actually needed, so you then collect better data.

I believe, it is better to focus on less data, really focus on it. My
father, Bill Hunter
, and Brain Joiner, believed in the value of actually plotting
the data yourself by hand. In this day and age that is almost never
done (especially in an office environment). I think doing so does add
value. For one thing, it makes you select the vital few important
measures to your job.

But it is very difficult for anyone to actual suggest plotting data by
hand: they must be very secure in their reputation (or maybe a bit
crazy), because it seems to be a hopelessly outdated idea that paints
you as the same. My appeal, within the Deming context, is that the
psychology of plotting the points yourself is qualitatively different
from letting the computer do it. Plotting the data yourself serves to
lift the data that you plot out of the sea of data that we find ourselves
inundated with and gives you a deeper connection to it. You would not
plot all the data that you use by hand; just the most important items.

John Hunter
Curious Cat Management Improvement Connections

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

North Cascades National Park Photos

Topic: Travel Photos

I finally have posted photos from my June 2005 trip to North Cascades National Park. See more photos from the same trip: Mount Saint Helens, Olympic National Park, North Cascade National Park. Photos from other trips: Curious Cat Travel Photos.

Deming and Six Sigma

Topic: Management Improvement

My message in response to messages on Six Sigma on the Deming Electronic Network:

I think the DEN members criticizing the problems with Six Sigma make valid points. However, I personally think they often go too far. That is my opinion, and each of us have our own views.

While some (probably even many) of the Six Sigma exhortations for Six Sigma quality would properly be seen as a slogan or a target without a method I don't think it is fair to say they all are. Six Sigma includes a method to improve.

I think we may have gone to far, when we get to the point where: Deming said some things against Six Sigma, therefore Six Sigma is bad. Deming questioned what TQM meant, therefore TQM is bad. I agree aspects of Six Sigma are bad. I also think some aspects of Six Sigma are good. And I think the same things about TQM.

Many of us look for companies that operate using Deming's ideas. It is very rare to find one that doesn't violate more than one of the 14 points (even when they commit to Deming's ideas). I think this is perfectly reasonable. I think it is reasonable for a journey to begin with a portion of what we would like to see. As the organization improves they can take on more. I don't think it is reasonable to look for a conflict with Deming's ideas and then dismiss a management methodology as unworthy.

JUSE uses TQM to define companies deserving the Deming Prize. I think JUSE has pretty good standing to speak as one view of what Deming's ideas mean. I agree with Dr. Deming's questioning of TQM. But that does not mean that true Deming followers should criticize it any time they see that acronym. He did have a good point and if appropriate raising that point makes sense.

"The Deming Prize is one of the highest awards on TQM (Total Quality Management) in the world. It was established in 1951 in commemoration of the late Dr. William Edwards Deming who contributed greatly to Japan's proliferation of statistical quality control after the World War II.(from the JUSE web site Aug 2005)

I must admit I find it somewhat amusing that I am becoming a defender of Six Sigma. It is not that I have a much better opinion of Six Sigma than I did before. Instead I just think our (the DEN's) opposition to Six Sigma is too absolute. I guess this might be a blind spot on my part.

I just think we Deming folks could learn from Six Sigma efforts and advocates and I wish we would do that instead of just saying, it is just bad, next question. I shared my thoughts on Six Sigma and Deming in a message to the DEN in 1999.

And I really don't understand how people could read stuff by Roger Hoerl, Ron Snee... and think these people don't offer valuable insight.

Anyway, my guess is that the popularity of Six Sigma is declining and will be overtaken by "Lean," if it hasn't already. It is odd, I think, that "lean" is getting so much play now as it has been slowing building for years (actually decades). I also think "lean" offers some valuable stuff for us. I think it is more compatible with DEN ideals, but it is far from perfect Deming. And just what "lean" means varies from one instance to another - this seems to be a pattern.

John Hunter

Car Navigation Systems

Topic: Management Improvement

Thinking About in-car Navigation Systems by Robert Scoble:

What's frustrating is there's no way to report a mistake. So, everyone who has Toyota's system is doomed to repeat the same errors.

While Toyota is doing great things they still have things to learn. As the quote above indicates they don't think like software companies. Software companies have learned to take every advantage of the internet to collect feedback. And those used to such system will find fault with any company that fails to do so, as shown above. And for good reason, failing to collect such feedback is a poor practice.

Another thing? We searched for Starbucks at least four times this weekend. Every time Dave needed to spell S - T - A - R - B - U - C - K - S out completely.

Why can't the system learn after a few times that you're a Starbucks freak and just permanently put that in the memory. Dave even went further. He'd like the system to say "you're near a Starbucks, wanna go there?"

Having to type out the entire word over and over seems like a poor design.

I still can't wait to get one in my next car.

And this statement is still true. While certain aspects of the current system could be improved this is likely an innovation that will become an expected feature in cars in the future. Hopefully with a better mechanism for collecting feedback.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Innovation and Customer Focus

Katrina - the landline - Telecom's Response by Stuart Henshall via Scobleizer

Is it too much to ask Bell South to:
* Let displaced account holders log in and claim their accounts (phone numbers) via the Internet.
* Offer every subscriber in the devastated area a free soft phone with voice mail that replicates their old home number? Softphones that would do the job are available. If the numbers were transferable then Skype could probably scale a solution in just hours rather than weeks.

Good idea. If Bell South doesn't want to be innovative immediately, then regulators should require land line companies to allow Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) companies to provide solutions. To me the key is to allow the land lines to be converted to a solution that will work for customers now. VoIP seems like the best alternative, for all those in temporary lodging.

For such a plan to work companies will have to provide the VoIP service in a very easy to use way. My guess is if this idea is tried, they will make it work.

Another post with more details on this idea: A Brilliant Idea for Helping Katrina Victims.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Friday, September 02, 2005

Visually Lean

Topic: Management Improvement

Lean From The Get-Go by Derek Korn.

This short article does a nice job of illustrating several interesting lean concepts in practice.

Work areas that are compact, but not cramped, not only promote efficient motion, but also improve scheduling accuracy by allowing a more precisely predictable determination of a job's total cycle time. This total cycle time is not just the time a machine is producing chips; it takes into account all factors involved in part production, such as setups, inspection, secondary operations and so on.

One important lean production concept is to reduce the physical distance traveled. Most distance traveled must be non-value added and therefore should be reduced. Lean operations also have shown eliminating clutter creates significant gains.

2. 5S Organization This idea of a more predictable motion is also a function of 5S organizational principles, which are direct extensions of the visual factory theme and staples of any lean push. Just what the 5S's stand for can differ from shop to shop (they typically represent sort, shine, simplify, standardize and sustain).
3. Setup Photos - Each time a new job is set up, R&D takes photos of the fixtures, tools - anything that will be helpful in setting up the job again so there is no wheel-reinvention the next time that job comes through the shop. These photos, along with standardized work sheets, are included in each manila job folder.

One great thing about some lean concepts is they are not complicated to understand. It doesn't take weeks of training to understand what to do. The hardest part is deciding to take the time to apply lean concepts. As the article starts:

Culture shock is one of the biggest obstacles to implementing lean manufacturing into an existing shop. Getting experienced shop workers to adopt a lean waste-ridding mindset often isn't the easiest thing to do.

More Lean Thinking Articles from the Curious Cat Management Improvement Library.