Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Sharpen Your Ax

At the Michigan Lean Consortium‘s annual conference, I attended a session on A3 Thinking for All Seasons by Brian Vander Weele. Brian began his session with a compelling story:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday loggerafternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Sometimes we get so involved in getting our work done, we forget to look around to see if there’s a better way. Using an A3 form is a simple, structured method for improvement. It’s a terrific tool to reinforce understanding the problem before jumping to solutions. It makes the problem and proposed countermeasures visible, and encourages experimentation. But it’s not the form itself that holds the power–it’s the thinking and the process. Lean processes, methods, and tools can be used to create an environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

Tell us about your favorite Lean tool!

 


Lean in Their Own Words

This is the third installment of Lean in Their Own Words. At the April graduation ceremony for our new Lean facilitators, the graduates each said a few words about what Lean means to them. Many of them have given me permission to share their thoughts with you. This week, we’ll hear from Todd Van Valkenburg, Senior Programmer/Analyst in IT’s Enterprise Application Services. 

Todd Van Valkenburg graduation“What does Lean mean to me now that I’ve gone through Lean facilitator training? At the end of every class day, and much to my dismay, Ruth had each of us get in front of everyone and give a quick presentation of what resonated with each of us. At the end of that first day, what popped into my head was the adjective “HEALTHY,” as in a healthy problem solving process. And that word has stuck with me throughout the class.”

“The Lean approach to Continuous Improvement is HEALTHY because: 1) At its core, it’s a non-blame, respectful approach to problem solving. Contributions are taken seriously and all voices are heard. 2) The process encourages people from different departments, backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences to come together to work on common objectives. 3) This approach relies on teamwork, learning from each other, and developing skills that each participant can bring back to his/her own department to share. And finally, 4) we are addressing problems/opportunities head on by carving out the time to really look at them instead of dealing with them later or hoping that they will just go away.”

“I’d like to conclude today with some imagery that also represents what Lean means to me. First, imagine that I’m working alone on solving a complex problem that impacts a few departments on campus. I am NOT using the Lean principles of continuous improvement. Now, further imagine that the challenges, obstacles and constraints I face are gusts of wind pushing against me causing me to literally lean. I could lean too far one way or the other, lose my balance, and fall right over. Now here’s the second image. Instead of working alone, imagine that I’m working right alongside a few others folks in those departments trying to solve that very same problem. This time, we ARE using the principles of Lean. We interlock arms and form a circle. Now, as these gusts of wind hit the group, some of us may lean but the others in the team provide the support and counter-balance to spring us back upright and put us right back on track. To me, this imagery demonstrates that working as a team and applying Lean principles is a very healthy way to solve problems at Michigan Tech.”

Todd working on a training exerciseTake a look at the list of our campus facilitators. Any one of them would be happy to talk with you about Lean and continuous improvement!


Understanding Lean Concepts Workshop

IMG_2378This week, we were fortunate to have Jean Cunningham present a workshop on understanding Lean concepts using hands-on simulations. The fun activities demonstrated some of the key elements of Lean: pull and flow, value add, set-up reduction and workplace organization.

During the activities, Jean asked us several times “What did you observe? What did you see?” At the beginning of the workshop, we tended to respond with our conclusions or assumptions based on our observations. It took some prodding from Jean to get us to start reporting what we actually saw, but by the end of the workshop, we finally got it. Before: The pin person is careless. After: Some pins fell on the floor. Before: There’s a bottleneck at the welder. After: There’s a lot of product waiting for the welder. Before: The supervisor has too much to do. After: While the supervisor was in meetings, no product was moving in the factory.

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Why is it important to differentiate between observations and conclusions? Because we often make a subconscious leap to these conclusions without considering all of the possibilities, and then we form our solution based on that poorly considered conclusion. Reprimand the pin person vs. altering the work surface to prevent pins from rolling off. Adding a second welder vs. redesigning the process to level the work load. Take responsibilities away from the supervisor (and express your disappointment!) vs. adjusting decision making to the appropriate level to free the supervisor for higher-level decisions.

The workshop participants had a good time and learned more about Lean and continuous improvement.

Jean Cunningham is principal of Jean Cunningham Consulting, which provides lean business management services including workshops, kaizen events and strategic coaching. She speaks at Lean conferences and teaches Lean Accounting for the Ohio State University Master of Business Operational Excellence Program.

Jean is widely recognized for her pioneering work in Lean Accounting, IT, HR and other non-production functions (Lean Business Management, The Lean Office). She is the co-author of Real Numbers (Lean Accounting) and Easier, Simpler, Faster (Lean IT), which won the 2004 and 2008 Shingo Prize for Research respectively. Jean was previously the CFO at Lantech Inc. and Marshfield Door Systems and the voluntary CFO for the Association of Manufacturing Excellence. She has a BS in Accounting from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University’s Executive Program.

The workshop was partially funded by the Visiting Women & Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLS) which is funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative.