Archives for category: Lean

In the book, How to Measure Anything, it is discussed how ranges are more preferable to a target number. I have had this discussion around annual planning time and I get blank stares. What I found was a better way, at least from my organization, to sell this concept and work through it with a team.

When working with a team around annual planning, we look at what the plans were for this year and what has worked and what hasn’t. We look at the gap from plan and last year and discuss what could have been done differently. This gives us some context on what should be worked on. The goal may or may not be known but either way we are focused on misses from last year.

The next step is looking at other opportunities. These are items that have not been covered or based on next year’s products or innovation items and processes that will be changed over the budget time horizon. These are captured with the current gap for further discussion.

Now that all the items are captured, a three dimensional matrix is developed. It is easy to hard, and simple to complex. There can be complex items that are easy because the organization is behind the initiative just as there are simple and hard items because though it is a simple item to fix, the organization isn’t aligned. The image of the process is below.


3 Dim Matrix


From this exercise the team now has a range of possibilities from Do it’s to moderate projects to major initiatives. This now becomes the range of values that the plan can encompass. What becomes the discussion now, is where in the range does the target land.

Does the target land within the range of values? If not, what needs to change on the financial side to fit it into the range? This can be a creative writing exercise more that hard science but at this point the dollars are a jumping off point anyway.

Does the target in the range but on the side of major initiatives? If so, how can the team makes some of those more doable? Is it by breaking them up into smaller projects? Is there a way to increase the impact of other projects? Is the target not realistic? That is a funny one I put in.

This has been a useful way to get leadership to understand and start thinking about ranges from the historical target focus. This may also giving the team the ability to treat the annual budget process closer to what it really is, an annual guess.



I have done some work in job shops and there have been many creative ways of creating pull and flow. I just saw one that was pretty impressive to me. I am not able to share images but hopefully I can do the process justice.

The shop was tight but I think it was more of an issue with finished goods and raw materials than the actual WIP processing area. The building was oddly shaped as well but they used the space effectively.

The incoming raw materials came in and an individual set up the order and which flow lane to start with. There were only 3 general types and there were some shared operations. The raw material was put on carts with wheels. This made it easy to move the equipment around and from the ergonomics point of view, it helped the techs work with the equipment.

There were lanes that were color coded to guide the equipment to each work cell. Each work cell had between 1 and 3 techs performing their work on the units. 85% of their needed materials were stored at the work center and Kanban cards were used for reordering. The Kanbans were usually handled by an individual that checked and filled the individual storage areas.

Not only did the tape on the floor indicate by color and location the assembly line, there was also marks on the floor for parking lots and WIP cap. There were several spots in front of a work cell that would only let 2 units be parked in front of the process before the previous process would stop. There was cross trained techs who could follow the work in such a situation.

The leadership had been working on this process for several years and then review the process quarterly. They have found that not only is raw material lower and throughput up, but variation related to cycle time and quality defects have been reduced by 30%.

The visibility on the floor, though not immediate due to the size of the equipment, is very good and from the mezzanine one can see where there is pull, flow and bottle necks in less than a minute.

The team has done a great job on organization, pull and flow with very little spending for materials. The spending was related to time spent with techs and leadership working on the details, modifying as needed and developing the tools, such as wheel carts to safely and effectively moving the units. Like the old commercial stated – Money for materials, less than $100, developing pull and flow at the job shop – Priceless.






My family and I love to go fishing. Most of our weekends are spent fishing somewhere as well as our vacations. We normally go for whatever is available in the ocean, lake or river. Sometimes bass, sometimes walleye or trout or blue fish. We do catch and release fishing so others can enjoy the experience as well. I get several people offering me new techniques and lures to catch the big one. I just like fishing but I do try some of the lures. Below is an image of some of the different types lures.

Frogs for lily pads. Crank baits, spinner baits, rooster tails, shad raps which are not pictured below and others that are used in specific conditions. It is amazing how many options there are. And this is just for bass let alone saltwater blue fish or drum or any other species. With these lures comes the technique to use them. Some you just crank them in, some you just float and have them “hop” on the top of the water, some you let them sink and crank a turn and then repeat. Are these techniques and lures statistically significant in catching fish? I don’t know but I am working with others on that question. One thing I do know is that it gets you into the store and gives you options on the water when what you are currently using is not working.

Bass Fishing Lures


Then there is catfish. I am sure there is just as much variation and subtleties to catfish fishing as there is to bass or any other species. What I will say, in my families experience, is that a bass hook, a 1/2 to 1 ounce sinker and a hot dog will bust you some serious hogs!

Hot Dogs

We have caught catfish in several lakes and ponds with this “rig” and have never needed to go back to the bait tackle store for something else. We just go to the local grocery store and buy the doggers. We usually by double so that we can eat some over the fire after the fishing day is done.

I have friends and family that have been fishing for decades longer than I have and have all the experience needed to bring in what ever fish they want to catch. What I find interesting is that when someone gives me the inside scoop on a lure / technique combination and they give me some bright lure with an instruction manual ala Ikea, I feel funny handing over an 8 pack of Ball Park Franks and telling them just drop them on the bottom and relax until they hit. But whether they are impressed or not, it works. That’s what I find sometimes when I am working on a project that I could have some great tools that wows the crowd during a presentation and show them how smart the team is but I would rather just show them how easy it can be to accomplish their goals. Sometimes it takes ANOVA analysis to get to the bottom of an issue. Sometimes it takes going out into the field and watching the process and giving some suggestions or using what the employee feels as pain points to resolve and issue. Just because you have the statistical hammer doesn’t mean everything has to be a complicated nail.




Scary meetings come in various flavors. The ones I remember most are the ones that I am not prepared for, the other team members aren’t prepared for and the ones that nothing gets done

The meetings I have not been prepared for come in two varieties. The ones that I am invited to but have very little pre-work or information. In this case I try to ask questions that get me up to speed. I also search the room for the dynamics of the team. The other ones are the ones that I should have done the pre-work and didn’t. In that case, I still try to get more information and also a little more time. This is very uncomfortable and because of this, I try not to get into this position.

When there are meetings that the rest of the team is underprepared, I reiterate what the meeting was for and find out when they will have the information. After knowing this and acknowledging the miss we had on this meeting and set up the next one. If this happens twice, I should be moving up the chain but I usually wallow for another meeting or two before I bring in someone else. This is probably my pride getting in the way of progress.

The worst one is the one that after an hour and a half nothing is decided, there is no insight into the deeper issues, and nothing is resolved. This happens when it is not clear on what the purpose of the meeting is and there should not be any FYI meetings.

For all the bad press, I have been in good meetings and led a few as well. The scary meeting are usually caused by no clear agenda, unprepared participants and vague or no set goals.


From time to time I have worked with companies that bring in a team to work at a site and fix a process or productivity or just improve the performance. What I have found is that we rarely have the right team assembled. They have individuals with experience with the process and the company as well as solid knowledge of processes, management, and engineering. All good but not enough.

When going into a site to better understand and fix major issues, the first individuals to show up should be HR not Process engineers. This is because 80% of the time, the leadership has issues and engineers or continuous improvement professionals do not have the skill set to deal with these issues nor do they have the authority. This is first. The HR audit should drive the next step.

Step 2 is engineering. This is to ensure that the equipment and processes can perform what is being asked of the site. Engineering should be used to protect / improve the plant for the future. Even if this is their main role, there are still limits to what the engineering team can do in real time. This review of the site can determine what is possible, what is out of the site’s hands and what resources are needed if there is a gap.

The final step is bringing in the CI / process improvement team. From HR and Engineering perspective it will be very clear the role of the CI team, the scope and timing of the project and the goal of the intervention.

Though, I showed this sequentially, this could happen simultaneously. One other item that I did not mention is related to the corporate leadership that is bringing the team in. they have to be open to any direction that improves the overall performance and no pre-conceived notions about what is wrong and how to fix it. I have had teams that were undermined by a leadership that already had the answer or was unable to remove themselves from the root causes and solutions to the problems at the site.

The team approach to improve a site or process is definitely the way to go as long as it is the right time focused on the right issues with the freedom to fix and perform their role.

On a previous post, I mentioned that I couldn’t find a situation that Continuous Improvement didn’t help but I looked back at some of my notes from other companies and sites and did come up with one area where CI has limited impact. This is when there is a dysfunctional team running a site or process. I have run into these environments a few times and I think I need to be more specific when I mention a dysfunctional team. This is related to trust, leadership and ownership.

A trust issue is when process / site leadership does not trust the front employees or vice versa. This environment creates inefficiencies due to Auditing for “wrong” behavior, Stand up meetings turning to blame games and holding things back for both parties. I have seen this in union, non-union and “High Performance Work Teams” as well. This also turns supervisors and the middle team into a confused mess and ultimately short term employees

Leadership means that one will lead the team. The whole team. All the time. I have found the biggest issues around this are when the site / process leadership start thinking they are CEO’s instead of team leaders. This can be witnessed when leaders are in their offices instead of the processes. Meetings in conference rooms instead of production floors. Talk about why we can’t get something done instead of what can be done. It is subtle and sometimes needs outsiders to see how bad it is.

Ownership is that the team is together and knows that the team determines the results. The term team isn’t leadership or supervision or front line. It is and. This means the blame is shared just as much as the glory. It is recognizing individuals and turning that performance into subprocesses so that everyone can be a hero. It stops the excuses and supports standard work. If Tony fails, we all fail. It is the responsibility to state that Tony and John and Jenny all work together to find the one best way and they all do it the same way – Their way. Not managements way, not Tony’s way, the way.

In these type of environments, CI work can be very challenging and the basic ideas of 5S and standard work don’t have a foundation to work from. When I have been confronted with this type of environment my recommendation is to step back and reassess what the site or process really needs. That can be hard because it may be as simple as a mirror.

Are there areas where continuous improvement / Lean Six Sigma do not need to be used or shouldn’t be used?

What about a known solution? Is there no risk related to this change? Is everyone aware of the changes? Even if there is a known solution, if it crosses process owners and potential unintended consequences, it is wise to at least review the process, look at an FMEA, Change Management and Control plan.

What about CapEx or buying equipment? Would that need LSS help? Let me ask you, in your experience, how many of these projects have been on-budget, on-time, and SLA’s, service level agreements, are satisfied? I have found that is not the case. Early management, Risk assessment, Widening the options for what to purchase and when are all items that continuous improvement could help with. This doesn’t even include the CapEx process that most companies struggle with.

I started thinking about this idea based on the belief that there are some items and topics that continuous improvement. I now think that there is always a better way and that CI tools can help in any situation. I have had multiple discussions in the companies that I have worked with and almost all of them have had what they perceived as “A players.” They are very capable and smart and know their business but I have rarely seen one of these teams put together a project that produces better results or less unintended consequences than a good process. Great teams have a hard time beating a great process.