Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Archive for the 'Lifestyle' Category...

Filed under Lean, Lifestyle, productivity, Uncategorized

As we discussed before, it’s obvious that basic principles of Lean can benefit a large number of people if incorporated into their daily lives.  One recent example is the new Amazon Dash Button; originally rumored to be an April Fools’ Day stunt, but that has since been properly vetted and confirmed by some reliable sources. Even if it turns out to be a joke, we’re still going to talk about it in this article Bringing Lean Home: Amazon Dash Button!

Simply put, this is just your basic pull system that many of us have utilized for years in our manufacturing or business lives.

The way it works is that when one notices they are running low on certain products (select major brands at this time), they simply press the button and that signal is provided to your home Wi-Fi and an order is sent to Amazon for replenishment.  It requires the user to first setup the Dash Button by syncing everything together through the Amazon app on a smartphone.  The end result is supposed to be a seamless reordering process for Amazon Prime members on the items they use on a regular basis and that often require wasteful trips to the store when they inconveniently run out.  Check it out by clicking the image below (not a referral link, just a regular old link).




Sound familiar? It should.  Think about your basic pattern production, replenishment pull systems:  material is consumed and some type of signal (kanban, empty bin, etc.) is sent back to the producing area to replenish the same standard quantity and type.  Just like we discussed in Kanban the Milkman a while back.  In this case, the kanban is the signal being sent electronically from the button.  Simple, straight forward and easy.  All one has to do is consume the product and press the button.

Actually, this could come back to manufacturing one day as well as they are reportedly offering the Amazon Dash Replenishment Service for any of your products.  This could have huge implications on manufacturing, logistics and supply chain planning if incorporated properly.  I’d see it as helping smaller manufacturers and businesses more than larger organizations as they are often the ones that don’t have access to sophisticated planning software or systems that use similar technology.  With Amazon’s growing infrastructure and partners, small companies would easily start benefiting from their massive scale and associated technologies, like this replenishment service.  The proof will be in how it all tests out and how far they can eventually push the technology (see below); it has to be proven first.

As long as Amazon is able to deliver quickly and keep the cost to roughly that of your average purchase of the item in store, then it works for me.  I like the move forward in the Lean aspect of it; however, I don’t think that I’d want twenty or thirty different Amazon Dash Buttons placed around my house.

Optimally, I’d like to see it taken a step further with some sort of proximity sensor (RFID or otherwise) that reorders the product when it recognizes the empty container in the trash bin or when it leaves the property, etc.  The active user element of having to push the button to replenish is not entirely fool-proof and still leaves room for stockouts to occur when someone uses the last of the product.  I think we’ve all taken the last of something and put an empty container back or not informed someone that we’ve used it up!

For more information on the Amazon Dash Button:

Recommended reading on related topics: Creating Level Pull by Art Smalley


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Comments (2) Posted by matt on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, productivity

I haven’t posted in quite a few months because I’ve been extremely busy.  My wife and I moved into our new house in April and it’s been nonstop working since then; working on and contributing to surveys, articles and books, performing actual work, house work, yard work, visiting family, etc.  


I’ve been doing some work in the past few months with MassMEP.  These guys are great.  They perform a lot of Lean training and facilitation of Kaizen events, and generally, help companies start a structured Lean journey that can be followed once MassMEP has finished its onsite work.  Like most manufacturing support entities, MassMEP gets the majority of its funding from the state government; in their case, Massachusetts.  They’ve been plagued lately by budgetary concerns as the MA state government was going to be appropriating money meant for MassMEP (and others) to pay off debt that the state has racked up.  This is, of course, a prime example of the pitfalls of big government and a major injustice to all of the companies in MA.  Each company pays into a Workforce Training Fund that is specifically setup for workforce education, which includes things like Lean and Six Sigma training.  So, if the MA state government would move those funds to other debts, it hurts the MA companies that would take advantage of the program in two ways:  First, they lose that money they are paying into the program.  And second, they lose out on the thousands/millions of dollars they could save (or grow) had they been able to get the Lean Sigma training and implementation.  A lot of manufacturers have already been to the state house to fight for the Workforce Training Fund money and it seems to have paid off so far, but there is still more that needs to be brought back that was put in by the manufacturers.


Lastly, I’ve been working on a lean simulation file that includes a basic template for setting up and running a lean simulation in a classroom setting.  I’ve been asked countless times for something like this, so I’ve been sitting down a few hours a week to put something tangible together that can be shared by anyone to explain and really showcase the benefits of Lean to their colleagues and company executives who need convincing.  More on that in the future, and when it is complete, I will post it on this site.



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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Friday, August 14th, 2009

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

How organized are you?  The information covered on the next few pages will change your approach to organization forever by bringing 5S home.  Many shows on cable television are based on this thinking, whether they come out and say it or not.  What I’m talking about is the organizational standards created by Toyota, and now used throughout many companies.  In fact, when most companies begin their Lean journey, they start with this:  5S.

5S is the acronym for this organizational program because there are five steps and each begins with the letter “S”.  The Japanese terms for these are:

  • Seiri – tidiness
  • Seiton – orderliness
  • Seiso – cleanliness
  • Seiketsu – standardization (standards)
  • Shitsuke – sustaining of practices


When translated into English, they are commonly shown as:  Sort, Set-In-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  Let’s start bringing 5S home.



Just as it sounds, you need to pick and choose what you want to keep and what you can get rid of.  The main point is that you want to separate the needed items from the unneeded ones.  I know I could have used words other than “needed” and “unneeded” but that is the main point of this – keep only what you need!


In manufacturing, a good rule of thumb is the 48 Hour Rule:  if you don’t need to use it in the next 48 hours, get rid of it, or put it back in its place.  In bringing 5S home, this rule works well when organizing a kitchen, garage, or workshop, but you can expand the time frame depending on your particular project.  Some people say a month, others 6 months, and some even say years.  At any rate, the main thing is:  if you don’t need it now, and you don’t need it soon, statistics say that you probably don’t need it at all.


A second good motto to follow is:  When in doubt, throw it out!  SORT is the hardest step for anyone that is a pack rat.  People in my family, I won’t say who, have a very hard time getting rid of things.  They, like many others, believe that they have something that is salvageable and that someday it will be worth a lot of money.  However, for the majority of the items out there, that is not true.  Of course, every once in a long while you’ll find a 1909 baseball card worth $500,000 or maybe even an original copy of the Constitution in the back of an old frame, but chances are, it’s worth little to nothing.


To make SORT a little fun and perhaps, even a little fulfilling, try some of these ideas:


1)      The classic yard/garage sale.  This is a great idea because once people see that no one wants to hand over cash for their junk, they are more apt to let go of it.  Also, an added bonus is that anything that sells:  gets the item out of your hands AND gives you some extra spending money!

2)      Another version of the yard sale is the online auction.  Join any of the major auction sites and list as many products as you want.  If it sells, then good, you get money and you get rid of it.  It not, then you know it’s time to throw it away – move on.  The only downside is that you will have to pay a small insertion fee up front on most of the sites.


I like this option the best, because it really allows you to see that if no one in a world of 6,000,000,000+ people wants to buy your stuff, who else is going to be willing to buy it?  Get rid of it!

3)      Give as much of it to charity as you can.  The Salvation Army and Good Will Stores always have need for old clothes and household goods.  Just make sure they are in good condition.  They will also accept children’s clothes and toys.  The best benefit of this option is that you can claim your donations when you file your taxes for the year in which the items were donated.  When you bring items to the donation site, ask one of the employees there for a donation claim form.  You fill it out there and they keep a cop and give you one for tax filing.  They will also give you a guide that it to be used for estimating the value that you should claim based on the items donated, the total number of items and the overall condition of each item.

4)      The last creative idea for sorting when bringing 5S home – if you have children – get them involved.  They love to help out, and the lesson of letting go will really grow with them as they get older.  A lot of American children have way too many toys as it is.  So, an idea here is, explain to them that some children have no toys at all and that they should give a few of their extras to those less fortunate.  This will be rewarding, not only for you, but also for your children, as they will learn to share.  And all this will contribute towards ridding your house of clutter.


One more thing about SORT – Don’t forget to recycle anything that can be re-used!



Now that you’ve sorted out everything that you no longer need, it’s time for SET IN ORDER.  This step is really the first step towards bringing 5S home.  It covers a broad range of areas, but the message is still the same:  arrange items in a set manner so that they are easily accessible, returnable, and at the same time, out of the way.  One term that makes it easy to remember is:  A place for everything and everything in its place.

The basic premise is that by arranging things in a logical and accessible manner, you will be more efficient in your actions, and over time, more apt to keep order because it will be evident when something is missing or out of place.  Uses for this stretch from a desk in an office to a workshop in the garage to the refrigerator, and even to things like a bathroom or laundry closet.  So, now that we’ve only retained what we actually need, let’s arrange it.


There are a few key ways of organizing to use here:


  • Common use items (i.e., items used together)
  • Arrange by Frequency of Use (i.e., storing items that are used most of the time in an easily accessible space)
  • Arrange by Sequence of Use (i.e., storing items in the same sequence as they are used)
  • Bulk area that an object occupies


The first one is pretty self explanatory; arrange items that are commonly used together.  In most cases, this is already done.  Looking at a house on a macro level, this would be the different areas of the house and what they contain.  In the garage or shed, people generally keep tools for upkeep and improvements.  This is the same for the kitchen and the bathrooms.  On a micro level, you would look at only one of those areas, like the garage.  Here you sort it into subgroups; like tools for yardwork and tools for housework.  That is why grouping commonly used items is usually the first way we arrange things.


Another way is to arrange items by frequency of use.  The more you use something, the easier you should be able to retrieve and return it.  Just as that sounds, you want to store things so that they are more accessible than other not-so-frequently-used items.  Some good examples of this:  In a bathroom, you use hand soap every time you visit, but you only use the shower/toilet cleanser once a week, so you’d store the hand soap on the sink and the cleanser in a closet or cabinet somewhere within the bathroom.  Working in your garage, you use your hammer and screwdrivers for 80% of your jobs and your jigsaw for only 20%.  Same deal here, you’d store your hammer and screwdrivers easily within reach, while the jigsaw would lie tucked neatly away in its own home until you need it.


Does this sound like common sense?  Well, it is, but too many times people forget the power of organization.  Okay, back to the organizing.


The next way to store is by sequence of use.  This may sound like storing things that are commonly used together, but it’s not quite the same thing.  This takes it all one step further.  While it’s true that most of these items are used together, the sequence they are used in is the driving force in their storage.  A basic example from manufacturing that I can use to describe this would be working on a hamburger assembly line that makes burgers with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.  So, if the work goes from left to right, you’d store these items in this sequence, left to right:  bottom half of the bun, hamburger patty, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and finally, the top bun.  That example may seem a little hokey, but it gets my point across.  Again, there are so many different cases in which you can apply this method.


Finally, another way to store things is by the bulk area an object occupies.  The bigger something is, the harder it will be to store in one of the previous methods.  For anything like this, simply create a home for it and store it there.  Common examples are lawn mowers, laundry baskets, kitchen appliances, large mixing bowls, etc.


Now, we’ve learned how to store in order, let’s learn how to give everything its own home.  Some common methods for creating “homes” include:


  • Labeling
  • Outlining
  • Color Coding


When bringing 5S home, I really take labeling to the extreme.  Every where that I have worked, I was required to “5S” my desk.  Because of this, I had labels everywhere!  And because of that, I was able to stay organized.  If you look at my desk you’d see labels that said, “stapler”, “calculator”, “notepad”, etc.  Now, when I tell people this, they generally give me a weird look and don’t understand why anyone would do this.  And many other people in the office often felt this way as well – until they started working at their newly “5S’d” desk.  That doubt quickly turns around, and many can’t go home at night until they find their missing stapler.


Let’s get started, here are some tips for Labeling:


  • Use a label maker – it is much neater than hand writing and provides labels that are easy to remove
  • If possible, put a label on the item itself and also on the spot that it occupies.  If it is missing, you will know instantly and if someone else finds it, they will know where to return it.


A second way of creating “homes” for objects is thru the use of outlining or shadow boarding.  This is primarily affective in areas that you can use paint or permanent marker.  A good, real world example includes the use of lines to create parking spaces.  An at home use is generally done in a home workshop (but can also be done with utensils and items in the kitchen).  This would be your typical shadow board.  Basically, tools are hung on a pegboard or wall and then either outlined or the shape of the object is painted on the board.  So, if you remove the hammer, you’d see either an outline of a hammer or a silhouette of one.  If it is missing, it will be very evident.


Another good way to practice SET-IN-ORDER is color coding.  You can use color coding throughout your house, office, tool shed, etc.  Some people consider this part of the 4th S (Standardize), but it really fits in well for both steps.  Color coding really gets things organized because it is one of the only ways to make something visually distinguishable, which again is that Visual Factory aspect of Lean.


Some people think that I’m crazy when I suggest color coding certain things, but we grow up surrounded by colors telling what’s what.  For example, stop lights, green means go, red means stop, and yellow means slow down except for in New England where it means speed up, no matter how far from the intersection you happen to be.  Red is usually a sign of a problem or warning.  At any diner in the U.S., decaf coffee is poured from the orange rimmed pot, while regular coffee comes out of the black (sometimes brown) rimmed one.  And my favorite example, casino checks/chips.  Throughout the gaming industry, casinos generally use the following color code:  $1 chips are white (or blue), $5 chips are red, $25 are green, $100 chips are black, $500 chips are purple, and $1,000 chips are orange.  Then they add more colors on the edges to help indicate how many are stacked together.  With these edge spots, they can also look down from any camera in the casino to see if someone was paid too much or not enough, and in some cases, they use these spots to prevent cheating and quickly identify losses due to cheating.  From the examples I’ve just shown, color coding has a reach, far beyond manufacturing facilities.


In industry, color coding is usually used to distinguish one production line’s tools and materials from another.  Here each area, line or cell will be given its own color.  Tools, jigs and dies will be the same color as they area it is used in.  So, if another area loses a tool, it can be found and easily identified by any other area.  This also comes in handy when workers tend to take each others tools.  No one wants to be working in an area with red machinery and tools, and be using a yellow wrench.  Anyone can see from a distance that this tool does not belong to them and that they have obviously gone against policy and stolen someone else’s tool.  This same concept can be really affective if applied in a home.


For anyone that has multiple children, you’ll find this particularly useful for bringing 5S home.  Assign children a certain color that they use to identify themselves – but be sure that you let them pick it!  (If you have more than one child that wants the same color, ask them to give a second choice that can be used as a minor color.  E.g., John and Jim both want yellow.  John also likes grey, while Jim like black.  So, here you could give John yellow with a grey stripe, and Jim can be yellow with a black stripe).


I know you might be thinking that this seems crazy, but for younger children it really helps them identify their own things and take care of them, while at the same time they learn to respect the belongings of others.  Common things to try this with:  tooth brushes, lunch boxes, toys, tools, clothes, etc.  Remember, most children like the fact that they have their own color and that they picked it, so many see this as a game rather than a way of keeping them organized.


Aside from children, color coding works well for most household areas.  Some items are already color coded when you get them, like salt and pepper shakers that you use in the kitchen.  Here are some basic ideas to get you oriented with color coding:


  • For chemicals, like cleaners – use bright colored stickers such as red or green to indicate very harmful ones from lighter, safer chemicals.  You can also use a simple color sticker to represent any products with bleach or ammonia.  Make chemicals that react strongly together have two different labels, and create a small reference chart to remind everyone to not, for example, mix the red and green ones.
  • Stickers in the kitchen can tell you about the seasoning or taste of something.  I like to use this on wine bottles.  If you think about salsa containers – they have green for Mild, yellow for Medium, and red for Hot.  Well, I do the same thing for wine that I store in my house.  After opening and tasting the first bottle of a case, I am able to put a sticker on the back of the bottle that depending on the color, reminds me that this has a “smooth, mellow” taste or a “spicy, dry” finish, etc.
  • Create a schedule for sticker colors to use in the fridge and cupboards.  I like to put 8 different stickers on the items in my refrigerator and cupboards.  Items in the cupboard get a date within that sticker as well.  Each sticker is a different color and represents a different week over two months.  I do this so that when I go to use something in the refrigerator, I know whether it is good or bad.  I have a tendency to leave things around and they go bad.  When I started doing this, I was able to not play the guessing game and keep my refrigerator only filled with items that are still edible.  You can put a date on the sticker if that helps you too, but the main thing is still that it enables you to identify the good items vs. the bad items.


More and more companies are using color coding outside of their plants as well.  Most notably, within the past few years, Target has recreated the prescription pill bottle.  I’ve always said that they “5S’d” it, since they looked at it from a customer standpoint, took out the waste and put in more value added features.  They improved the human factor side of the product and most customers responded favorably.  Each family member is given a color, so that each bottle is distinguishable by sight, they’ve made the font bigger, more organized and detailed, but still readable, drug facts and warnings.  They’ve succeeded in aiding in bringing 5S home for anyone that receives prescriptions from Target.


Another good use of color is from the computer and consumer electronics industry.  All of the components that connect to the back of the computer are color coded so that the peripheral connector matches the connector on the computer.  Some people said it was brilliant.  I just say it’s simple, common sense.



The 3rd “S” in bringing 5S home is really something simple:  SHINE.  All this means is to clean up and make things sparkle or shine.  This is sometimes referred to as Spick and Span as well.  The point is the same, however, once we have SORTed and SET-IN-ORDER, it’s time to clean up what’s left.  During SHINE, there are three main goals:


1)      Getting the area or workplace clean

2)      Maintaining its appearance

3)      Installing and using preventive measures to keep it that way


Here are some common practices to help achieve this:


  • Painting
  • Lighting
  • Removing clutter
  • Dust collection
  • Minimizing leaks and spills
  • Conducting routing maintenance (i.e., preventive maintenance)
  • Use of root cause analysis


There are many more that I could list, but you get the point:  CLEAN UP!


After cleaning your separated items, it’s now time to STANDARDIZE everything.  STANDARDIZE can be done in a variety of ways, which will include some of the SET-IN-ORDER process like color coding and visual identification practices.  In industry, STANDARDIZE is used to make the 1st 3 S’s “unbreakable” by installing a system of standards that is to be followed by everyone within the organization.  This is where roles and responsibilities are handed out and training occurs to get everyone used to the 5S vocabulary.  Also, a lot of emphasis is put towards the use of visual factory techniques – color coding, checklists, and labeling that reinforce a “copy as you see it” approach.  In bringing 5S home or to a home-office, the same techniques and approach work well.


Here are some strategies to get to standardization when bringing 5S home:


  • Use 5WHYs and 1 HOW – Keep asking WHY until you get to the root cause and then ask HOW to fix it.  Some very basic examples:


  • WHY are you spending half your day mopping the floor?
    • Answer:  Because oil is always leaking from the machine.
  • WHY is oil leaking from the machine?
    • Answer:  The secondary gasket isn’t strong enough to hold the oil.
  • WHY isn’t it strong enough?
    • Answer:  The primary gasket is missing.
  • WHY hasn’t it been replaced?
    • Answer:  The maintenance department can’t get the screw off.
  • WHY can’t they get the screw off?
    • Answer:  They don’t have the right tool.
  • HOW:  I will have them order the proper tool, and replace it.



  • WHY have I gained 20 pounds in the past year?
    • Answer:  Because I eat too many bad foods.
  • WHY do I eat at bad foods when I shouldn’t?
    • Answer:  Because I don’t have time to prepare and eat well.
  • WHY don’t I have time?
    • Answer:  I get up late every morning and need to rush.
  • WHY do I get up so late every morning?
    • Answer:  I don’t get to sleep until the early morning.
  • WHY don’t I get to sleep until then.
    • Answer:  I stay up watching late night television.
  • HOW:  Ignore (or record) late night television and go to sleep.



  • Suspension of toys, tools, allowance, etc. – when people forget or ignore the 1st 3 S’s that you’ve installed, punish them this way so that over time, the system is reinforced and eventually sustained.  Bringing 5S home, like parenting, requires a lot of attention and shared respect to be successful.
  • Incorporate Poka-yokes (this is talked about in depth in another section) – means “error-proofing”  – some examples:  locks on chemical cabinets, used of baby or puppy gates, putting things out of reach, etc.
  • Eliminate as many variations as possible, examples:
    • Tool unification – use only Phillips head screws and screwdrivers on all home projects
    • Tool substitution – wing nuts instead of wrench turned bolts
    • Method substitution – eliminate the bolts and use clamps (many areas where this can apply – especially workshops or the kitchen)


Of the 5S’s, SUSTAIN is by far the hardest to fully accomplish, especially when bringing 5S home; partly because it is a never ending process of ongoing improvement, but mostly because it requires constant monitoring of the first 4S’s.  In manufacturing, it is relatively simple because you can reward or punish certain people or work areas, while in bringing 5S home it may involve only you, which in turn, requires much more self discipline and control.  Regardless of the troubles, here’s how you keep it going:


·         If you have children or others that are living or working in a 5S’d environment (e.g., your newly cleaned/organized kitchen), let them know beforehand that they will be required to keep it neat and orderly.  If you were able to STANDARDIZE well, then they will already have good tools to use in order to SUSTAIN.

  • Perform audits.  This lets anyone involved know where they stand and what needs to be improved.  Auditing yourself can be tough, but it does provide you with how well you’ve been able to keep it up.
  • Take pictures of the area at its cleanest point and then put them in the area.  This has the effect of putting a “fat” picture of yourself on the refrigerator when you want to discourage yourself from eating.
  • Use checklists – daily, weekly, whatever is most suitable for you.
  • Assign yourself and others involved tasks to be completed on a scheduled basis.  Reprimand when they have not been completed and give acknowledgement once completed.
  • Do as much as you can to keep it going – signs, pictures, reminders, notes, etc.  Make the awareness remain at a very high level of visibility.

Bringing 5S home is truly a powerful first step in mastering The Lean Lifestyle and one that sets the table for the rest of your improvements.  When I’ve been asked by people what were the top 5 things I did that really helped me learn more about lean, apply it more everyday and help me in furthering it in the businesses I work with, here are my top 5:  Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, and Bringing 5S home!

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

What is Kaizen?  Many people that are new to Lean Manufacturing will at some point end up saying, “Kaizen?  What is Kaizen?  What do you mean by Kaizen?  What does Kaizen do?”  Several terms and definitions come to mind when talking about Kaizen.

On page 24 of The Toyota Way, Liker comments, “Kaizen is a total philosophy that strives for perfection and sustains TPS on a daily basis.”

Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “Change for the better” or “improvement”.  It is most commonly translated into English as “Continuous Improvement”.  Kaizen is one of the forerunners in Lean thinking and requires discipline and constant re-evaluation.  It works on the basis that nothing can ever become perfect.  There is always something that can be improved.

Kaizen on a company scale can mean several things.  As part of a continuous improvement culture, most companies hold what are called Kaizen Events.  These are generally an activity that remove people from their daily tasks and place them on a team, to accomplish a goal within three to five days.  These are highly targeted projects with achievable results, such as moving machines so that they can work closer to one another for continuous flow, or designing and implementing a new queuing system for a specific purpose, or a SMED event (What is SMED?), etc.  No matter what the goal is, the process is relatively the same:  Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) was developed by W. Edwards Deming and introduced in Japan in the 1950s.  It is based on the Scientific Method and is a precursor to Six Sigma’s DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, & Control).  This is how PDCA breaks down:

  • Plan – Develop a sound, well thought out goal (that can be achieved with moderate effort) and how to achieve it.
  • Do – Implement the ideas and/or changes needed to achieve the goal, including training.
  • Check – Review what you’ve done; be critical, but not negative.
  • Act – Depending on how the Check step went, sustain these results or perform the whole PDCA cycle over again.

You can see that this is pure continuous improvement as the cycle can be completed over and over again.  In the Toyota Production System, they have slightly changed this language to be Plan, Try, Reflect, and Standardize.  Different verbiage, but same expectations of process and results.

Typically, most Lean training and resources define two types of Kaizen:  System or Flow Kaizen and Process Kaizen

A System or Flow Kaizen deals with an entire value stream being evaluated for opportunities of improvements and will usually include action from several levels of management. 

A Process Kaizen is a concentrated improvement of a single process (or groups of the same type of process).  This type of Kaizen will usually include a cross functional team dedicated to improving that individual process.

Both of these types of Kaizen are abundant in any successful Lean enterprise, and are at the very heart of those organizations.  Working within a company that needs help implementing Lean can begin to wear on your mind, especially if you are the agent of change.  For my entire professional career I’ve had to take on this role.  You push and push everyday for changes because you can see the waste sitting all around the plant and office; in stacks of wasted inventory and DMR’d materials to frivolous steps in product development processes.  It’s tough to keep a positive attitude. 

Over time I’ve learned to incorporate the idea of Kaizen into everything that I do.  I make it a habit to say this word to myself over and over again at different times during the day.  While at work, it keeps me in the moment and opens my mind to thinking that everything can be made better if we just apply ourselves a little bit more.  Now, I tend to Implement Then Perfect which is a good, offset definition (sort of) of Kaizen, where as early on in my career I would spend too much time pondering possibilities instead of just doing.  This creates better outcomes and makes you think on a Results Driven basis, which is really the way you want to think – you will constantly grow and improve – just like a company that is maintaining a strong Kaizen mentality.

On a personal level, use Kaizen to improve you life and it will work its way into your professional career.  Incorporate it into your daily life with exercise, eating habits, vices, etc.  If you want to start working out, start small and build from there – add a little bit everyday.  That’s small, incremental improvements that work.  If you eat too much, try to eat 1 less bite at 1 meal every other day, and eventually move up to 1 bite for every meal, everyday.  If you smoke and want to quit, cut back slowly and your body will respond favorably.  These methods work for you and the same type of stepwise improvements drive positive changes in your company.

If you know someone who claims to be perfect – they’re not.  Even a lot of the most successful people will tell you that they are not perfect and that that belief is what got them to where they are today – and it keeps them there.  You maybe thinking:  “Won’t that thinking just make me depressed?”  The truth is, no, it won’t.  Once you allow yourself to see the flaws that are holding you back, you will be much more likely to overcome them.  A good motto that I try to live by is:  Always be happy, but never be satisfied.  That is the essence of Kaizen.  That will bring continuous improvement to your life.  That is Kaizen.

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

– Shigeo Shingo (Toyota)

I’ve decided to start posting some of my favorite Lean related quotes to help pass the message on.  Now, some of these are from recent years while others go back to the golden age of Mass-Production-Only manufacturing, i.e. the Before Lean or Old Testament of manufacturing. This one is from the man, the myth, the legend Shigeo Shingo. 

For those of who are unfamiliar with him, he’s the famous Industrial Engineer brought into Toyota in the 1950s by the great Mr. Taiichi Ohno who had heard of Mr. Shingo’s influential and successful seminars on methods of manufacturing.  In the years following, Mr. Shingo introduced the ideas behind such great concepts as Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) and Poka-yoke (i.e., mistake proofing).  Here’s the quote:  “The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

What can I say? He was right.  Whether you look at this from a manufacturing perspective or even a lifestyle perspective, eventually you have to recognize that he was spot on.  This quote is very straight forward, but carries a significant message.

I often refer to this quote to point out that this is really the 8th type of waste left out by Ohno’s 7 Wastes (Overproduction, Defects, Transportation, Waiting, Inventory, Unnecessary Motion, Overprocessing/rework).  Waste that goes unnoticed can quickly multiply into bigger problems that manifest themselves at inopportune times; often, this occurs months or years after the birth date of this unseen waste.  Waste is like a cancer.  It’s there the whole time, but sometimes just can’t seem to notice it.  In some cases, it’s because a person does not want to see and acknowledge the waste.  Other times, they simply can’t see it; they really don’t understand what waste is and they really can’t recognize it.  In either scenario, you can’t eliminate or fix something that is not known to exist.

Now think about that in a manufacturing setting.  No matter how you slice it, waste is waste.  Many a times, before a company is exposed to Lean the waste is rampant and the management has no idea of all the money they are letting waste away (no pun intended).  This also means that the majority of the people working under these managers can’t see the waste either. In the end, this simple idea of hidden waste evolves into a much deeper issue for me.  The more and more I think about it, the more my mind moves towards striving for continuous and sustainable improvement.  What wastes do I see at work everyday?  What wastes do I see in my life everyday?  Moreover, how can I get rid of these wastes and make everything perform better? So, look around you.  Find the most dangerous kind of waste.  Eliminate it and improve.


“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

– Shigeo Shingo (Toyota)

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

The United States is in trouble.  Being a relatively young nation, it is still developing its own identity; which to this point has been one of adventurers and risk takers.  This is something that one would expect from a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants, as leaving one’s home country requires those types of traits to allow for such thoughts.  This frontier’s man type of attitude is one characteristic that has always led to great accomplishments as a result of such verifiable risk taking.  However, with all of this success comes arrogance, expectation, gluttony, and worst of all, lackadaisical-ness.

It wasn’t always this way.  After the World War I, the United Stateswas riding the victory bus all the way to Prosperville, but then the wheels fell off and we were stuck in the middle of the Great Depression.  That should have been the first sign that our independently spirited behavior was leading us in the wrong direction.  This fact was forgotten, however, on December 7, 1941 when warplanes from Japan performed a devious preemptive strike on our naval base at Pearl Harbor.  The following years led to the country coming together to fight the Axis of Evil, and along with that came production on a scale that had never been seen at any point in history.  Because of this, the United States went onto success, not only in the war, but also inside of its own borders. 

The Great Depression had ended.  No more soup lines and government cheese.  It was time to go to college on the G.I. Bill, and have some kids.  We had survived the biggest threat to the known world in recent history.  Let the party begin.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of television, the space program, and most of all civil rights.  Within this time, Americans familiarized themselves with many comforts developed from technology discovered during World War II.  One such invention was the use of microwave ovens in the home.  No longer would the family cook have to slave over a hot oven all day.  We could cook our meals in minutes and eat them while enjoying our favorite television program which showcased people that were just like our closest friends and neighbors.  Everyone was becoming identifiable.  Celebrities were becoming more iconic, and so, the great American ideal of merchandising was born.  More and more regular citizens began to purchase products not simply on the fact that they needed them for some common use, but more because their favorite celebrity supposedly swore by it.  This generated a feeling of belonging for some, but for others, a feeling of envy.

With such a huge rise in home ownership, Americans were living side by side in a manner never that was never really developed before.  Homes were now being built and setup in curving neighborhoods with every other house looking the same.  And once again, the American people’s ability to take a common characteristic and turn it into something completely over the top had succeeded:  If your neighbor had it, you had to have it.  Of course this envious character has existed in human nature since the beginning of things, but nothing had been developed into such a hate machine as this.  And so the American spirit worsened, and we turned from a nation of “I need” to a nation of “I want”.

This all continued to worsen during the 1970s.  The Great American Consumption Machine rolled on and on.  Automobile manufacturers started developing cars that were no longer to get you from point A to point B with a few creature comforts included.  You could now get a car with an engine big enough that you could out race anyone in your neighborhood.  Americans were becoming increasingly more self centered, and the “gimme gimme gimme” attitude continued from infancy into young adulthood.

This was the crucial point in American society when certain individuals began to realize the downward spiral we were taking.  Since the end of War World II, Japan had been rebuilding, and in their traditional way, rethinking and continuously improving their ways.  The American unions, along with the Great American Consumption Machine, were causing increasing prices for consumers, which affected everything from food to automobiles.  Like Japan, other countries were taking notice.

The formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960, allowed those countries to establish exporting policies as well as oil prices.  The United States never really a felt a serious pinch from this until 1973, when during the Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) decided that they would no longer export petroleum to countries that supported Israel.  Coupled with that threat was that at the same time, OPEC decided to quadruple the price of oil.  All of the highly industrialized nations, including the United States, attempted to put forth measures to prevent future shortages and price run ups.  This held over the American people until the early 1980s.

Seeing an open market and piles of money awaiting them, Asian manufacturers began to increase their exports to the United States.  Along with their pennies-per-hour-manufacturing-costs and significantly lower prices, they brought their compact automobiles.  Since the oil crunch of the 70s, several groups within the U.S. were pushing the idea of smaller, more fuel efficient automobiles with a higher regard for the environment.  So, as Americans do, we followed the head lemming and moved towards the Asian edge of the manufacturing cliff.  While the quality was not great from American manufacturers, it was even worse from most Asian companies.  One of the few exceptions was the Japanese automobile giant Toyota.  However, the quality aspect of things never seemed to matter to the American society as a whole.  True to form, they were consistent with their previous trends of purchasing and went with what was of lower cost.  And so, many more Americans began losing their jobs, as companies that were started and grown in the U.S. decided the only way to compete was to move operations off shore.  After all, wasn’t it the American labor policies and rights protections that had led to this run up in wages and costs?  Apparently, most of American companies felt this way, and the life of the ordinary American worsened.

It was during this time that two of the most significant publications in American history were released.  First, starting in 1984, people were introduced to Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book The Goal:  Excellence in Manufacturing (later called The Goal:  A Process of Ongoing Improvement). the goal cover The book, a work of fiction, led readers into the concept of the Theory of Constraints through an easy to read novel setting.  While this book has had great impact and has sold millions of copies (over 3 Million in fact) worldwide, it is virtually unknown outside of the manufacturing world.  This sadly rings true for the second publication, especially since it had a far greater message.

After a five year, five million dollar study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology associates Daniel Roos, James P. Womack, and Daniel T. Jones released their groundbreaking work The Machine That Changed the World:  The story of Lean Production.  Between the covers of this book, they explained much of the same message I am trying to convey with this site, but strictly towards manufacturing.  Most importantly, they detailed how Toyota could produce cars with a third of the defects of American cars, using half of the factory space, half the operator and production time, and consequently, about half the cost.  While recording their findings, they coined the term Lean Production, which is still used today when discussing the topic.  Again, just like The Goal, this book gained much acclaim from the business and manufacturing world, but received very little coverage in the American mainstream which was centered around soap operas, game shows, and “Who shot J.R.?”  The one good thing that has materialized from these two books is the acceptance that as Americans, we need to change our ways if we wish to continue our lavish lifestyles.

Around the same time, as previously mentioned, American companies were not only losing ground on the fact of cost, but their quality was driving consumers to move towards lower priced goods produced offshore.  At Motorola, Bill Smith was pioneering a new quality initiative to reduce defects that would later become known as Six Sigma.  The name is derived from a statistical metric that measures defects as a percentage of total production.  It states that when a company is operating at a Six Sigma level, it will produce no more than 3.4 defects for every 1,000,000 parts produced.  Just like Lean Production has done for manufacturing, Six Sigma is still increasing quality of American products as more and more companies familiarize themselves with the program.  Because of this, Americans slowly became more and more comfortable with American products; technology continued to advance.

With the rapid movement of technology resulting from the unparalleled advancements of the computerized age we currently live in, Americans have become lazier and lazier.  When you thought about dinner in the past, you’d expect to eat a couple hours later.  Now, it’s almost unthinkable to have to wait that long.  If you want a hamburger, you’re in and out in five minutes at your favorite drive-thru window at the local fast food restaurant.  Or if you’re looking for some pampering, you can go to any of the thousands of chain restaurants and dish out some extra cash to have your food and drink brought to your table.

Along with the growth of fast food is the growth of the American Value System.  I will touch more on this in later, but here’s a preview.  We, as the American culture, have for some reason come to the conclusion that more is always better, especially when it has a cheaper per unit cost than buying what we will actually consume.  One of the sources for this thinking comes out of marketing and getting people to buy as much as possible.  Another source is most likely the rise of “discount” clubs which allow consumers to purchase large quantities of goods at a lower per unit cost, if the consumer is willing to pay an upfront cost as well as purchase in quantities greater than those normally found at regular retail outlets.  For Americans, this is true for almost anything, from underwear to food to toiletries. 

The same idea can be said of our lives today.  With so many advancements and creature comforts, why do so many Americans say they don’t have enough time for things?  Yes, people have children and jobs and responsibilities, but then again, so did our parents, and all of our ancestors.  We have built ourselves up so much that our quality of life has decreased.  Television and other people’s affairs take up more of our lives than what is actually important.  Cell phones are literally almost a dime a dozen, children don’t even know the history of their own country, and most adults find refuge in some sort of drug, whether it’s been prescribed for them or it’s been purchased from a liquor store or the corner drug dealer.  And as is our tradition, we cover the problems up instead of actually confronting them.

So, as technology is improving our lives in many ways, it is ultimately moving the American consumer further and further away from what is really needed.  At this point in time, American manufacturing is swaying from stable to unstable and back again as companies shift operations from Asia to China to the U.S. and abroad.  Gas prices have never been higher, causing other basic costs to rise, and how are the American people responding?  Not by solving the problem, but by name calling and the pointing of fingers.  On this blog, I offer simple solutions to help relegate a small portion of the overall problem by making Americans understand that we are the cause of many of our problems based off of the way we live and how we consume. 

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Monday, March 17th, 2008