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The Ergonomics of Lean

January 6th, 2011 admin No comments

I suppose that falling terribly behind with writing blog posts is pretty much of a good sign. It means that we’re working hard, not being able to give the necessary priority to what could maybe be considered as a ‘necessary’ waste i.e. it adds no value to the customer, but life is less fun without it.

In any case, apologies for the long break. I have been busy, both teaching and learning from others. I’ve also become terribly unlean (i.e. fat) during a period of all work, no exercise, and an end of year break entirely dedicated to enjoying myself. I agree what they say about a work/life balance, and it’s about time that I actually got to do some work.

I was prompted to put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard) by a conference I intended last night on the coexistence of Lean and Eronomics. Basically there were a couple of ergonomics consultants, a job I can understand rarely gets the limelight, who decided to bring together a handful of companies from a local area, a group of ergonomics students, and some poor isolated chap to basically give Lean a bashing and explain how totally incompatible it was with a safe working environment.

Needless to say, the latin blood got flowing and there were some fairly hefty exchanges, and just one individual who came out of it with any degree of sanity and self-respect. It was a local company manager, at the head of 50 people making mechanical parts for the aerospace industry, who’d come along to present his experience of Lean implementation. The stare he gave the Lean consultant, who’d given a fairly good overview on how Lean was everything but a toolbox, was worth being there for by itself. He’d only ever known the tools, and it was doing him a power of good.

The stare he gave the ergonomist was even better (”if anyone here is thinking about entering industry then you’d better get used to hard work”). He was also the only one who explained that, by giving authority and responsibility to his team to take whatever actions they considered necessary, there was no way that they were doing to implement working practices that needed corrective actions from ergonomists.

However, there were enough stories in the room to prove that not all managers are like him, and that all too often the ‘Lean’ implementation is a way of disguising a workplace organisation decided by the management and imposed on the workers. And there are enough of these around to keep ergonomics consultants busy for the foreseeable future.

As an eye-opener, it was a good refresher after too much time locked away being busy and stuffing my face. However, it is now 2011, and the blog is back!

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Well done LEI

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Following the message included in my post of yesterday, Jean of LEI came back to me straightaway, this morning US time.

Hello Peter,

We are very appreciative of your taking the time to write about your experience and added expenses with FedEx.  This is an important issue to be raised, and we are exploring what can be done.

Asking the five Whys  is where we will start.

I hope you enjoy and gain from your books.

Thank you for your interest in LEI.

Best regards,

Jean

I appreciate above all the urgency of the response. “Every letter written deserves a (rapid) reply“.

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The Capacity to Listen

December 16th, 2009 admin No comments

I can remember it clearly as if it was yesterday. Walking down that long corridor, behind a colleague of mine who, as usual, was talking. Talking. Talking.

And still talking as he pushed the swing doors. And let them fly back towards what could have been unsuspecting victims. However, I knew this man. Technically extremely competent. Very sure of himself. But with very little sensitivity to others. Some of us look back and make sure a) that we are being followed and b) by who. Other just barge straight on. Regardless of the surroundings. Incapable of listening.

For listening had evolved over the course of my relatively long career as the number one characteristic of the competent manager. This is especially important for the Lean manager, who has to keep his ear wide open :

- listening to his customers : are the goods or services that he is contributing to the supply and delivery of meeting the customers expectations. And if not, why not, and what are we going to do about it?

- listening to the members of the team : every hour of every day, out on the shop floor or in the office, encouraging, guiding, reacting to feedback, dealing with issues, building confidence and teamwork

- listening to his colleagues within the value stream : what are their difficulties, what can I be doing to help them, what events do we need to anticipate?

- listening to the processes : are they improving, what do the measures say, where are the issues, what can we do about it?

- listening to the external value stream contributors : what do our suppliers or service providers think of us, how can we make their job easier?

- listening to the boss, and making sure that he is fully aligned, motivated and committed to the Lean efforts, and doing something about it if he is not,

- and finally, back home, listening to the wife and kids. Lean Management can be a highly pressurised environment with the listening and then doing that takes place, but the work/life balance is an important aspect of the Lean Management System, and work pressures are no excuse for plugging our ears at home.

The capacity to listen is a telltale sign for many other management competencies. We should all do our utmost to improve it?

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Don’t hit me, boss

November 30th, 2009 admin No comments

A survey report published this morning in Les Echos concludes that three in five workers no longer have any confidence in their management. The same number (not surprisingly) claim that management no longer has the same interests as their employees, who are unhappy essentially with not only their own salaries and level of recognition, but also management pay and even company strategy.

The report suggests that employees are becoming more and more individualistic, moving away from the unions and collective negociations and prefering face to face bargaining with the manager, who is not always equipped and experienced enough to respond correctly. 45% are worried for their jobs even though 73% reckon that their employer is economically in a solid position, and the two pet hates that are mentioned are redundancies in companies which are making profits (quoted by 2 out of 3 surveyed) and the excessive pay of certain executives (1 in 2). Funnily enough, stress at the workplace is not seen as a major concern, despite the media attention of these recent weeks.

Of course, the “new management methods” (Taylor, Fayol and Weber are quoted, so the newness could be debated) come in for scrutiny, and in the future, it is suggested that there is going to be an increasing need for not only “a closer collaboration between the base, operational management, and the executives“, but also “mutual listening, emotional intelligence, and above all the capacity to motivate others and give purpose to actions“.

Could it be that there is a future for Lean Management after all?

The short-term needs to face up to the current economic context, improving performance, reducing costs, and increasing profits, are seen as a obstacle to this more ‘human’ side of management.

How many exclamation marks should I put after that last sentence? Sadly another case of journalism not exactly getting the whole story.

Thanks to this current economic situation, we are seeing more and more the emergence of the need to align the  ‘Respect for People’ pillar of the TPS with the ‘Continuous Improvement’ work. Once we get journalists reporting on how profits have increased because of a much tighter and human collaboration between management and their teams – and their mutual listening and emotional intelligence’  -then we should see a snowball effect pretty quickly.

Les Echos report on employee confidence is the full report for those French-speakers amongst you.

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Why on earth would you want to train me like a Dane?

November 24th, 2009 admin No comments

As we all know (or suspected, if we had taken the time to think about it), people just love getting trained. Lean Management is all about building a competent, responsible and dependable work force, so it’s not surprising that everybody jumps at the chance of even more training…

Don’t they?

There’s an interesting article in this morning’s “Les Echos”, France’s number 1 daily business read. For some reason not at all explained in the article, somebody carried out a survey in France and… in Denmark of all places (obviously Belgium and Germany were not exotic enough, and the budget didn’t extend outside of Europe). I won’t quote all of the figures, only the more interesting ones. How about these?

           – 75% of French people questioned see training as a way of improving their CV (86% in Denmark)

           – only 55% (69% in Denmark) think that training could help change jobs

           – 85% reckon that the employer gets more out the training than the individual

           – 18% judge that training protects them against layoffs … against a massive 62% in  a very utopian Denmark.

The article concludes that the French see training as a means to mobility, of kicking off a new stage in their career outside of the company. However, it is perceived as being more imposed than desired – it’s more a case of the employer taking the opportunity to ‘train and move the people on’. In Denmark, training is seen as part of a career plan : 10% of Danes see it as a means of developing their network, against a measly 1% in France. And the conclusion of the conclusion is that France has a lot to learn from Denmark in their approach to training.

I can’t say that I’m totally convinced given the figures that either country has the right outlook. However, it certainly prods us to think twice next time that we proudly send our teams off for training, under the impression that they actually want to go.

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Now, that’s service for you

November 20th, 2009 admin No comments

They say that for every one satisfied customer who expresses his contentment, there are ten or so who will only voice their discontentment. Well, start queuing up, you unhappy customers, because I’m today’s happy one.

I came across (actually I was searching for it) the dates for the next Lean Enterprise Institute Lean Summit (first week of March) and decided that, having never been to one before, and the reviews being good, I might as well make an effort to get over to Orlando. With it being only a couple of months away, and knowing that flights get more expensive the closer to the date of departure, I decided to take a risk on the event being cancelled/moved/swine-flued, and entered “cheap flights” into the search engine. Some twenty not-really-value-adding minutes later, I’d made my choice, and entered my personal and card details…. only to get a big red warning that the on-line travel agency had been unable to get a confirmation of the flight from the carrier, and advising me to make another choice.

A bit cheesed-off to say the least, I started weighing up my opt…. and the phone rang. A very helpful young (I suppose) lady from Go Voyages, who had seen the same message as me flash up on her screen, proposing to investigate what happened and find a solution.

It turns out that the initial carrier had not been keeping the database of available flights up to date, and it was no longer available. But there was another one with a different carrier (admittedly 20 euros more expensive) but with only one change rather than two on the outward leg… and in five minutes, it was all settled, and Orlando here I come.

And I really did get the impression that this young lady had been sitting there just waiting to jump in and save me. This post is categorised as ‘Respect for People’ – it is not only your employees that you need to show respect for!

govoyagesCongratulations, Go Voyages (I’m sure you also have unsatisified customers, hopefully not ten times more than the satisfied ones).

And here’s hoping that the LEI keeps their side of the bargain!!

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Go For It, Boeing, It’s All Yours

November 11th, 2009 admin No comments

The French Government are not particularly renowned for their smart decision-making. This is certainly the current view of the French people, with President Sarkozy enjoying an all-time low popularity rate of 39%, and his Prime Minister (yes, we manage to get both over here) having less than half of surveyed people appreciating what he was doing.

However, there was one absolutely fantastic decision they made last year and implemented at the beginning of this one. Basically, public televison (the channels that we licence-payers pay for) is no longer allowed to show (and therefore sell) advertising after eight in the evening. This has had a couple of effects. Firstly, evening prime time starts earlier than that of the other private channels – who are all showing a lot more advertising, to such an extent that there is often a great urge not to try to watch anything on these channels as all we ever see is BMW, Audi and a comprehensive selection of the big banks every twenty minutes or so.

Secondly, the public services have had to do some serious thinking on how to exploit this tremendous opportunity… and came up with a world-beating plan. Basically, they started making programmes which are worth watching. They are having a go at increasing customer value. And it’s working. Last night, there was another belter, following the ‘Death of Work’ programmes a couple of weeks ago.

This one traced the history of EADS, the ‘European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Company’, basically the European conglomerate that Airbus represents the most important part of. In fact, the history traced back to the origins of the aeronautic industry in each of the main European countries, and the event that led up to the creation of EADS almost ten years ago.

Since that date in July 2000, it’s basically been all uphill. Talk about European collaboration!! This was nationalistic infighting like you’ve only ever seen in the ex-Yugoslavia over the past twenty years or so. Sorry, let’s not bring the Brits and the Spanish into this – let’s just say that if you wanted to show your kids just how well the French and the Germans get on these days, you wouldn’t use this programme as your introduction.

All the main directors over the past ten years were profiled and most interviewed. And not all of them were convincing. At all. Especially one, who will remain nameless just in case I ever have him in front of me as a customer, although I think my maybe too stringent ethical morals would prevent me from even turning up at the initial meeting.

And you really did get the impression that the management was spending basically all of its time defending attacks from behind, developing national alliances and positioning itself for press photos. Oh, and maximising the value of their shareholding – there was obviously a large part of the programme dedicated to the insider dealing.

We also got inputs from the shop floor. People wanting just to be able to get on with their jobs, but puzzled by what was going on above them, and becoming and more impregnated by the franco-german rivalry that was raining down from up above.

The result of all of this? We’re told that only one in ten of all employees (I think we’re taking Airbus here, as we little of the other divisions) is motivated. And only one in five has confidence in the management to turn things around. I make that 10% raring to go, 10% turn up for their pay having confidence in  the boss, and 80% demotivated with no expectations of the current management.

They are having a go at implementing Lean Manufacturing, by the way!!!

Go for it, Boeing – the road ahead is wide open.

Unless you have similar issues, that is!

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Respect for the (temporarily) unemployed

November 1st, 2009 admin No comments

Good report on French television this evening. It followed a medium-term uncmployed family from Nashville Tennessee, lost their home, living on a camp site. Like many thousands of others.

We have similar cases in Europe. Possibly even more unfortunate and distressing one, with the rise of immigration from the East.

What we don’t have is the US spirit. Not only onsite soup kitchens, but also school shops and a general movement of solidarity. Respect for people.

The future is rose.

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Energize your leadership (and other goodies)

October 25th, 2009 admin No comments

This is a copy/paste from a blog I started at the end of last year, and then ignored for a while as priorities changed. I never realised I was such a talented author!!

What does it take to successfully lead a Lean Supply Chain or other improvement programme or project? Detailed knowledge of MRP, maybe? Being able to reel off the definitions of the different incoterms? Express Six Sigma to six decimal places.

Well, maybe, but’s let’s start elsewhere. How about a little enthusiasm and energy. Or even lots of it. Leaders need enthusiasm and energy themselves. But they also need to be able to mobilize and sustain it within their organizations.

So how do they go about doing this? How do they raise employee expectations, change people’s behaviours and obtain the attention and commitment of teams and individuals at all levels of their organisation or project?

There is clearly a link here with clear, comprehensive and compelling communication. From setting ‘ccc’ objectives to being able to tell a ‘ccc’ story, and building an inspiring and ‘ccc’ view of a much better long-term future. And not forgetting a ‘ccc’ big thank you to celebrate ‘ccc’ successes.

Obviously, being capable of generating energy is not the be-all and end-all of successfully implementing the change programme. Setting and managing challenging objectives, addessing impacts on short-term performance, and engaging people at all levels of the organisation all contribute amongst other factors to increasing the chances of success.

But, in the end, it all comes down to the profile of the leader. Certainly, he will go through phases of anxiety, confusion, frustration, fatigue and resistance. However the positive emotions – pride and enthusiasm - normally outscore the difficult phases in the makeup of successful leaders.

Then this came two days later under the title ‘Maintaining Confidence in Times of Crisis’. Good, eh?

The current economic crisis has resulted in a climate of concern in many companies today. How do we maintain momentum and commitment during these difficult times?

The manager/leader has a key role in reassuring his workforce. How does he go about this? The minimum is to be seen, either through spending less time away and more ‘at home’, or less in the office and more on the ground with the employees (if you see what I mean). It is important to show solidarity, and be prepared to listen to the options and concerns of the workforce. However, there is a limit, and any major changes in behaviour may have the adverse effect, and increase concern amongst the staff.

Another important point is to be transparent. It is impossible to pretend that “all is well” when everyone knows very well that it is not. Communication, and especially information, need to be reinforced during these periods, both up and down the hierarchy. Words must be supported by actions and attitude, as we all know the importance of the non-verbal aspects of our language.

Finally, the leader has to underline the contribution of any improvement initiatives to improving the overall situation for his company or department. Times of lesser activity are often ripe for intensifying change, which can be a major motivator in difficult periods.

In-between, I’d done a bit on how to implement Lean Manufacturing. Simple, isn’t it?

Firstly, and most importantly, the company culture needs to be steered towards continuous improvement and the use of Lean tools and methods.

Secondly, management needs to provoke – and provoke is probably the right word – a drive to reduce the inventory and assets required to produce and deliver products. Make them do as much with less!

A thorough understanding of what is adding value compared with all the rest in next on the shopping list. Get rid of costs, whether they be manufacturing, logistics or selling, which are not contributing to the customer service objectives.

A commitment to a 100% on-time delivery objective through the synchronisation of manufacturing and logistics processes comes next. This involves both internal and external improvement drives.

Finally, increasing the flexibility of manufacturing and logistics operations is imperative.

Luckily, this current blog seems already to have lived a longer life than the previous one.

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Lean means bucks (up to a point)

October 18th, 2009 admin No comments

Almost ten years ago now, I was party to the ultimate Lean rollout. Big Pharma, big money, big show, big everything.

I was based in France at the time (well, I still am), and as a management team we were booked into a top Parisien hotel for a whole week’s training on how to ‘lead’ Lean Six Sigma implementations. No McKinsey or Accenture this time – no, only the best would do, and we were given what I understood to be ex-military generals and captains etc who had all by coincidence undertaken a career change to become Lean Sigma specialists. With a liking for trips out to Europe, obviously.

It was a good training programme, I must say. Lots of Powerpoint, a little discussion, even a bit of action planning for when we were back in the office. Nothing new though for me personally, as I’d been working with the Lean principles and methods for a number of years already. And I must admit, at the end of that week, I did feel that there had been something missing from the course itself.

The missing piece of the puzzle was the people aspects, and all that, with hindsight, we’d stick under Toyota’s ‘Respect for People’ banner. There had been one section on changing the company’s culture, but nothing on, for example, what to say to the troops back home on day one back in the office. Nothing on handling difficult questions, nothing on how to adapt the managerial style, or on how to work better together as a team.

This was an area that had always fascinated me – how to get people to get things done, and change to better ways of doing it. Therefore, for the past ten years, it has been the subject of a great deal of personal reading, research and, as both a manager and a consultant, of trial and error and learning from successes and mistakes.

For the Big Pharma company in question, Lean definitely meant bucks – monthly reporting on savings against objectives, avoiding double-counting between projects by allocating savings proportionately etc etc – what a load of muda.

For the managers in us, Lean meant changing the way we worked with our teams, and gaining satisfaction from seeing people improve, both as individuals and as teams. There was not anything near like big bucks in all of this, but I’m sure that without our self-implemented ’Respect for People ‘ approach, the monthly reports would have been showing far less impressive savings.

In the current economic context, the human side of business is becoming even more important. I left Big Pharma three years ago, a long time after the Lean buzz has died its agonising death at the Corporate level.

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