We (HPL) have been working with a few different clients recently where there has been a need for proof-of-concept line trials. To me, line trials are a lot of fun! Well, they can and should be. Think of them as a sandbox that we can build out our creative and innovative ideas and concepts to see if they will work in the real world. However, to be effective and result in meaningful outcomes, line trials need to follow a robust Plan, Do, Check, Act/Adjust (PDCA) process. A common mistake when undertaking line trials is an inadequate plan! A good rule of thumb is to spend approximately 70% of your PDCA time and effort (not including the actual trial build duration) in planning for the trial.
Given the importance of proof-of-concept line trials, HPL has created two documents to help plan and execute effective line trials, as follows:
Simulationcreates an environment where failure is a safe opportunity for learning.
Although the quote was referring to space flight training and simulation, the same is very applicable to proof-of-concept line trials. Really, the only failure of a line trial is not to follow a proper PDCA process because something may negatively or falsely impact the trial. Even when the trial doesn’t produce the desired result, it should not be deemed a failure when line trials are made to be a safe time and place for those involved to experiment and learn. So even if a line trial results in a less than expected or disappointing outcome, as long as we’ve learned from it, it’s a great successful failure!
I hope you’ll find these two new tools helpful. Let us know what you think or if we’ve missed anything.
One of the things I’ve always loved is the simple kaizens (continuous improvement). I was reminded of this recently working with RAB Design Lighting when the team there was conducting some line trials. Having coached the team on the importance of detailed trial planning and real-as-possible process set-up, but also the need to be balanced with simplicity, low cost, and high flexibility, I was thrilled to see their creativity and ingenuity that met these two potentially conflicting criteria. See examples in the pictures below.
The two criteria mentioned above is important because you want a trial to simulate the real line conditions as much as possible, however, things will definitely change as you learn more. So you don’t want to invest time and money building/buying a lot of things that may not actually be used in the permanent line or that may require several iterations of changes to get just right.
When conducting line trails careful planning is necessary. Planning such as: Clearly defining the purpose of the trial is critical. Determining what are you trying to prove, disprove or discover. Setting up the line to simulate as close as possible what the actual real line will look and feel like. Protecting the trial from “noise” or other things that can negatively impact or distract from the purpose of the trial. Although some of these things maybe real, you should try and isolate them from initial trials if they are not directly related to the purpose. There is a time and place to allow real time disruptions and abnormalities but not in early trials. Identifying and defining the number of trial observers, their roles, responsibilities and tracking needs. Deciding on what metrics to track and measure throughout the trial and who is going to do that. Scheduling, taking into account breaks, lunches and shift end, is also important.
Trials are to experiment and learn. They can also be a great deal of fun along the way!
One of the best time saving, and perhaps even life saving things I did was implement 50 minute and 20 minute meetings. The emphasis was on 20 minute meetings as the rule and 50 minutes an exception.
The old saying “the fish grows to the size of the fish bowl” applies to meetings. Most people schedule 60 minute meetings. Why? It’s the default setting in most scheduling apps. What happens? Meetings extend to the length of time that the meeting is scheduled! Funny how that is, eh!
The obvious benefit of 50/20 minute meetings is more effective meetings and staying on topic, however, the real reward is that you get 10 minutes between each meeting, for, well, whatever you need. That maybe a coffee, a washroom break, checking and responding to emails, making quick calls, conversations, preparing for your next meeting.
Try it! It’s simple but GREAT!
Leave a comment with your best time saving or personal planning tip.
As a follow-up to our 2nd article in the “Leading Problem Solving in Non-Manufacturing Series” that described the acronym “TIM WOODS” as it applies to non-manufacturing environments, this 3rd article in the series will explain how you can teach your eyes to see these waste form in non-manufacturing areas and then how to engage your team in problem solving.
An important skill for leaders is to learn to “see”. This means seeing beyond what most people see, or at least a different perspective of the same image. Teaching your eyes to see is a learned skill, that once mastered, opens your eyes to many new things.
So how do you learn to see? Practice.
The first step is to Go to the area in which work is performed and go with a specific purpose to learn to see. For example, go with a focus to see one specific type of waste from the TIM WOODS definitions as summarized below. For more examples of each type of waste in non-manufacturing areas, you may want to review the previous article here.
So what do you do if the work is done on a computer? Go to computer and observe what is done, how it is done, the steps involved, information required, etc. You can learn a great deal from observing any type of work. Observing someone doing data entry or programming, can be enlightening to see, what they experience. It could be glare from overhead lighting or sunshine, large numerical entries prone to errors, system delays while background analysis takes place, excessive clicks to complete a desired task, etc.
The next point is to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to see a very specific focus. I’d recommend no less than 30 minutes, and more appropriately 60 minutes depending on the area you are reviewing and the people being engaged. However, it’s less about the size of the office area, and more about giving enough time to really see and observe the various forms of waste. Sometimes, depending on the type of waste, you need to observe for a longer period of time before the waste actually takes place. For example, to see wasteful “transportation” or employees walking around looking for information they need to do their job, likely only occurs periodically. Unless you are just lucky enough to be there at the right time, you will miss this type of waste unless you observe long enough.
Look for that specific focus that you determined and only that focus. Resist the temptation to “wander” or make a “laundry” list of everything you see. When you see the specific focus items, ask yourself as many questions as you can about that particular item. See beyond the obvious. Look for deeper meaning, symptoms, evidence, or abnormalities. Ask “why” many times to understand what is really happening.
Although efficiencies and personal productivity can be improved by engaging in TIM WOODS in non-manufacturing areas, I’d suggest it’s less about that, and more about reducing employee frustrations and distractions. Employees will become more engaged, energized, and happier! Of course, if your employees are engaged, energized and happier, they will be more able to focus on their work tasks resulting in improved efficiencies and personal productivity.
This type of activity is something you can practice on your own, together with your team, or engage your team to increase engagement, awareness, and sustainment long term.
Often leaders in non-manufacturing areas struggle with what to put on their Leader Standard Work (LSW). This is a great one to add – “Conduct TIM WOODS audit”! Whether it be weekly, monthly or otherwise, adding to your LSW and integrating it with your calendar by reserving time in your calendar makes for very effective leadership.
Team engagement can be done by establishing an audit type system (similar to a layered process audit) where the TIM WOODS focus areas and office locations are pre-determined and an audit frequency and responsibility schedule/matrix is made up. In doing so, each team member will be have the responsibility to conduct a TIM WOODS audit on a specific focus area, in a specific location, at a scheduled interval.
When repeated often and with a new or different focus you will soon see these forms of waste naturally and without effort. Once you learn to see, you won’t be able to turn it off.
The next step is to engage your team in problem solving to resolve the cause of these wastes by implementing a “Problem Solving Auction” which includes the following key points:
Prioritize and select a limited number of top items, recommend 6 or less open at any given time.
“Auction” off ownership of action and agree upon completion dates.
Document and distribute the action plans as detailed above, make visual physically or virtually.
Problem solve after the auction, not during.
Follow-up, close out actions, recognize successes, repeat.
To get you started, you can download our TIM WOODS audit sheet from our Tools page.
In the next article in this series we will discuss “Looking for evidence through gemba” in non-manufacturing areas.
If you missed the previous articles in the series, ‘Leading Problem Solving in Non-Manufacturing Series”, you can find them here:
We had a great turn-out and received very positive feedback at our last Lunch & Lead Series on the topic of “Leading Problem Solving”, however, we also received some comments that it was difficult for those in non-manufacturing spaces to relate to how they can lead problem solving in their area. Over the next few posts, we’ll cover off the topics from the Lunch and Lead Series but with a non-manufacturing focus.
If you missed the Lunch & Lead Series, it is available free at our on-line content site here as a “course” but don’t let the terminology fool you, it is just the video recording of the event, divided up into smaller duration “lectures” that correspond to each of the agenda items. Go check it out…
The first topic was the establishment of standards that within a very short period of time, as in a few seconds, anyone can determine if something is normal or abnormal. As in manufacturing, visualization of some standards in non-manufacturing areas are relatively easy. These are the things that when out of standard negatively impact the team’s ability to do their work.
Examples could include a common reference library of regulations, policies, or other documented information. Being able to quickly find what you’re looking for or identifying any that may have been misplaced can prove very helpful, save time, and reduce frustrations. In the virtual world, similar standards are useful for organizing digital storage by establishing standard file structures and nomenclature.
Other examples could be as simple of establishing standards around team supplies, tooling, or equipment.
In non-manufacturing areas the challenge often is that the “work” and “work flow” is not overly visible. For example, an engineering project is comprised of various tasks that engineers need to complete. The challenge here is that often with development type work, the engineers are dealing with a lot of unknowns or because it maybe the first time creating “something” there are no standards for it. In these cases, you want to establish standards around the work flow, provide a framework of generally accepted principles or benchmarks, and provide clear escalation mechanisms when things are not going as expected or planned. An effective way to visualize these is through a visual control board.
In the first example we will use a technical team that is responsible for completing some type of project type work. This could be product design, tooling or test equipment design, or construction/fabrication.
The layout of the board would be done in such a manner as to indicate the tasks that need to be completed by whom within a “standard” period of time. These standards could be industry standards, standard times as determined by the organization, benchmarks, or in the case of creative/innovative never been done before work, best guess estimations or established service level agreements (SLAs). It can also be with reference to the project milestones. Often, there is a strong reluctance to do this because of the “unknowness” of how long it should take to complete these tasks, however, referencing to the milestones allows for faster visibility of potential project delays or impacts. This should not be used to place blame or put undue pressure on those involved, but rather, provide the opportunity for escalation that can lead to additional resources, rescheduling of downstream tasks, and/or important communication of the status of the project to critical stakeholders.
Typically this would be visualized by day for a 1 to 2 week window for each person assigned to the project within a specific team. The board can be either physical or virtual board as long as the task assignments by day by week can be displayed. Each day the board is reviewed by those working on the tasks and their next level up leader. At the daily review, abnormalities to the standards would be very visible indicating a task is behind or that there has been some kind of difficulty or risk associated with it identified.
A pareto of issues can be created and built each day to help the team focus on the biggest issues that impact their work. Often in these types of situations, unplanned work plays a key role and has a significant impact on the teams ability to complete their project(s). Using a different colour sticky in this case to indicate unplanned work is very visual and can easily be tracked in the pareto as an issue. The leader can then assist the team in quickly resolving the issue through problem solving. The problem solving should not occur at the meeting, but rather a commitment made between the appropriate stakeholders as to what the next steps are and by when.
In the second example we’ll review a procurement situation. Typically a procurement team’s work flow is within a computer system. However, critical information is also usually available within those same systems. Again using a visual board and placing critical reports on them with visualization of abnormalities to standards is a good approach. For example, perhaps there are SLAs as to how long it should take for a purchase order (PO) to be placed. An aging report or having each buyer indicate which of their purchase requisitions (PR) are out of that standard helps to visualize purchasing abnormalities. Unfortunately, too often, we can experience payment problems to our vendors and then get ourselves into trouble when they refuse to continue to ship. Then talk about abnormal work to clear that up! Perhaps a metric that shows outstanding payment aging would be beneficial to avoid such situations. Again the abnormalities can be tracked in a form of a pareto for deeper analysis and problem solving. The point is to identify the aspects of the teams workflow that can or is having the biggest impact on their ability to effectively do their job or on the organization.
A third example is for a sales and marketing team. They can visualize their work flow on a visual board and meet daily to review. They could visualize main proposal work content and status. Discuss new risks that arise that may pose a threat to winning the project, as well as visualizing the probability of a win and the financial status of the sales plan vs actual. They can also capture lessons learned to improve their quoting and proposal process to drive continuous improvement, as well as to quickly identify abnormalities or issues that could impact a proposal so that problem solving is quickly initiated and/or escalated.
Although non-manufacturing work tasks are less naturally physically visible, the same principles apply.
You need to establish the standards the team is to follow, make them visible in some manner usually through a visual board, and then there needs to be some form of controls in place to manage and problem solve through the abnormalities.
Controls could include variance to SLAs, escalation mechanisms, layered process audits to confirm standards and identify areas needing focus, for example.
In the next post, we’ll discuss how TIM WOODS can apply to non-manufacturing areas.