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Making your information Timely, Accurate and Actionable

Five Guys Pizza, East Nashville’s best!

When you hear the word “lean”, most people immediately think of going on a “diet”. Say “lean” to my husband and he thinks I’m asking him to give up his beloved pizza. However, I’m not.

When I use the term “lean” I’m really asking him to take a more holistic view and while there may be room to “give up” a slice or two, there may be other variables that would bring about a more effective change to his well-being.

In a manufacturing environment, going lean is a complete philosophical approach and means looking at the whole. Lean should apply to all of your processes and all businesses.

Lean eliminates the “ 7 wastes” from the work flow – whether you are stocking shelves in a supermarket, closing the monthly books in finance, processing shipments, production on the shop floor or communicating the engineering direction.

A finance person recently explained to me that lean in their world represented three things: timely information, accurate information, and actionable information. That really resonated with me.

In our manufacturing world, focusing on timely, accurate and actionable information would make a huge difference.

  1. Timely (7 wastes: waiting, overproduction)
    Just like on-time parts delivery, on-time information ensures work flow continuity. Getting it too soon, it can get lost or be OBE (overcome by events). Getting it too late, bad decisions may have been made.
  2. Accurate (7 wastes: defects)
    Measure twice, cut once isn’t just a saying. Think about it. Rushing just to hit a deadline is pointless if the information is flawed. You were “on time” but you were “on time” with bad data. Are congrats really in order? Make sure you include enough time in your schedule to double check.
  3. Actionable (7 wastes: inventory, overproduction, over processing)
    We swim in a world of data. Lots and lots of data. We don’t necessarily need more data but more effective data. Data that we can use. Meaning, we need to spend more time asking the better question so we get better metrics. Take time to ensure what you have spent hours creating is something someone can use, make a decision with, or clearly communicates eliminating questions.

In the end, you may not have to get rid of pizza, but rather you need to understand how that pizza fits into your overall lean scheme.

Be intentional

Communication depends on Identification

Question: What makes a problem hard?
(Answer at the bottom)

Having been involved in the manufacturing floor for over 30 years I think one of, if not the most challenging thing we face on the floor is the ability to clearly articulate the problem at hand. Because if we can’t clearly say it, how then will we fix it? It seems so “simple”, and most times it is – except for when everything goes wonky (or kerpluey).

When you see what appears to be a team working at cross purposes, there is a high probability that they each are working from their own framework (point of view) for the problem they are trying to address. If you see this happening, check and make sure they are working to the same problem statement.

Contrary to some, Six Sigma isn’t the root of all evil. We, on the manufacturing floor use the 5-whys tool for root causing production floor issues. Have you ever thought about what a valuable tool it would be to use for “knowledge worker processes”. Getting to know the real issue ensures a strong problem statement that the team can then address. Think about it. Everyone on your team sees the knowledge flow from a different perspective.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, realize it may uncover other problems that have to be addressed in order to get to the bigger issue at hand. I think it was Machiavelli who once said, “A small problem is hard to see but easy to fix whereas a big problem is easy to see but almost impossible to fix.”

Whichever end of the spectrum you find yourself on, taking the time to better understand the problem and clearly articulating the problem statement will put you and your team on the right course to solving your issue.

Here’s the answer to my opening question:
Knowing something is wrong, but not clearly defining it so you can communicate it

Be intentional,

Garbage In / Garbage Out (GI/GO)

I loved Star Trek. Still do. As a kid, my parents used to say, “Garbage in, Garbage out. (GI/GO). All that science fiction will stunt your imagination!” Ha, maybe that’s why I became an engineer. Too much Star Trek. Can you ever really have too much Star Trek? Nope.

GI/GO is also used regarding computers and the data streams surrounding us. Our computer systems have become very complex — they rely on perfect information (dates, quantities, etc.) to calculate Spock-like (had to throw in a Star Trek reference for you Trekkies) information. They can provide product analysis, financial roll-ups and even drive the pace of the manufacturing floor.

But have mercy should a data set be entered wrong. You’ve just created an information tsunami. It’s at that point the “humans” must intervene and restore order. This is time consuming and eventually could negate any productivity improvements the computer provided. Many times the root cause is found to be, “Garbage In”.

So how do we error proof our data sets?

First, you should considering treating the knowledge worker processes with the same rigor as you would the manufacturing process. Use your Six sigma, poka-yoke and other quality management processes to find the optimal data path. Be intentional. Don’t just let it happen. (Now before you go all engineering on your non-engineering teams, be nice. Remember – sharing is caring.)

Second, if something was Garbaged In – you need to trace the garbage back. Find the source. Was it a one time error or was it due to a process error? Use a systems approach to find the root cause. Yes, clean up the garbage out but find out the “why”. Whatever you choose to do – pull everyone into the solution. Here’s some questions to consider:

  • Are your reports too complex?
  • Are you measuring things you don’t need to?
  • Can you simplify your system?
  • What is it that you need to address to remove the GI?
  • Do you need to launch an initiative or was this a simple error?

Finally, the computer isn’t always right, software glitches do occur. People program computers, people are not perfect – thus computers can be wrong. Sometimes.

Where’s Spock when you need him?

Be Intentional,

You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them…

jokersThis past week I read a great quote in a magazine, “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play… the ones you’re holding”. Memoirist Cheryl Strayed quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle.

What cards are you holding? Better question, what cards do you think you deserve to be holding?

Everyone at the table should stop and look at their cards. What are you holding? Are you in the midst of a downturn where it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel? Or are you in the middle of multiple launches and running a breakneck speed wondering how you’ll ever get enough resources in place. As you look across the table – realize that no one knows the cards you have been dealt to play except, you.

It is easy to think of the cards we want to have, the cards we believe we should have been given that would give us a winning hand. Cards like… more time, more resources, or different customer expectations – then we would be able to lay down a winning hand. If only life gave us the lipstick camera view of the cards like they do on ESPN, then it’d be easy to play the manufacturing game wouldn’t it?

World class teams do not have perfect business conditions, there is no utopia. Rather, world class teams have figured out how to win in a competitive imperfect business world. In spite of the conditions (Famine or Feast) they find themselves in these teams thrive. Why?

They’ve simplified so their resources can succeed. They’ve prioritized so timelines can be met. They’ve taken the time to understand the actual customer request. (In sales it’s called smoking out the hidden agenda.) They’ve asked questions (Six Sigma 5 Whys) to identify the stress points. They’ve fixed their gaps.

World class teams understand their obligation to play the cards they have been dealt and they play them well. They play to win the long game.

As you close out this calendar year, you need to set yourself up for success in first quarter of 2016. Make sure your goals are ready to go when the calendar strikes 01-Jan-2016. It’s coming. It’s already dealing the cards. Are you ready to sit at the table and make your play?

It won’t be easy, however it will be worth the effort.

Be intentional