Notes from a Small Island – “If you change the way you look at things”

12 July 2018

Written by Ed Clements, Programme Director, MSc Lean Enterprise
MODULE 4 – Demand, Capacity & Flow Part 2

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Max Planck

This is a quote from the founder of Quantum Physics, German physicist Max Planck. It was popularised by the best-selling author, teacher and speaker Wayne Dyer. I have picked it as it is a fitting quote to embody the objective of the Demand, Capacity and Flow (DCAF) modules on the MSc Lean Enterprise.

The two DCAF modules are at the heart of the MSc programme and by the end of them, we hope the students have the understanding, knowledge and objectiveness to change the way they look at their own organisations, processes and systems. In this piece, I want to cover a couple of discussion points about mapping, lean, systems and the way we as lean and systems practitioners look at things.

Learning NOT to See – Blinded by “muda”
I have definitely changed the way I look at value, demand, organisations and businesses over the years. With the luxury of hindsight, we all can sound like experts. I am writing this piece in the full acceptance that I am doing it with the benefit of hindsight, experience and learning. It is a reflection of my journey as a lean practitioner and I would wager there will be many in my position.
When Shook and Rother’s Value Stream Mapping bestseller “Learning to See” was first published I was among a large contingent of lean practitioners that embraced its simplicity and visualisation, keeping one page ahead of my clients. In fact, the mantra of Value Stream Mapping as an invaluable first diagnostic step was a favourite recommendation.

I am sure that “Learning to See” has had real, positive, practical impact and was successful at opening more eyes to the prevalence of muda in organisations. For me, it was the catalyst that pushed me to ask more questions about the interaction of the information flow (the why) and material flow (the what) and the real causes of system waste. For that, I am very grateful.

For many, though, they have attempted to copy and paste the technique by rote without the principle and the understanding. Many have become overwhelmed by the extent of the waste they have found and have mapped their lean transformations to a stuttering, slow standstill. Many transformations lose traction because they run almost indiscriminate kaizen events focussing on taking waste (muda) out of processes and steps that are non-bottlenecks or shouldn’t even be there.

We are doing “lean” though aren’t we if we have a few Kanban’s and run SMED events wherever we have a long changeover? Sometimes the one-dimensional map without knowledge, direction or context becomes a snapshot.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 

In 1962 future US President Richard M. Nixon published the book “Six Crises” in which he attributed a version of the above saying to Eisenhower. I think it encompasses the second point I want to discuss, this time about the process of Value Stream Mapping. I had a go at modifying the saying………..“In preparing for a lean transformation I have always found that a map is useless, but mapping is indispensable”.

All too often I have heard and witnessed when VSM has been carried out in isolation by individuals in the improvement team, by a collection of team members because they were “available” or supported by “experts” that sporadically come in and out of the mapping event as they were “busy” and could only free-up a small amount of their precious time. This invariably results in a final feedback presentation to a disinterested senior manager who is more interested in their phone than the revelations about their own systems.

If facilitated effectively and run at the appropriate level, a VSM event can be a revelatory experience and a way for a silo-bound senior team to change the way they view the customer, value, demand, their policies, business systems, their IT systems, their process and themselves as a team.

It is an opportunity to quickly gain a working knowledge of the thinking and end-to-end systems of the organisation. By changing the way they all look at things they will, collectively, see them differently and be in a better state to drive the changes needed for a successful lean transformation.

A map only shows you where you are now. To plot a shared course together and really tackle the challenges ahead you also need the collective motivation to succeed that comes from mapping together.

Hosted at a student’s home site the following are some of the reflections that have been expressed by our MSc Lean Enterprise cohort during their practical, on-site DCAF2 (Demand, Capacity and Flow) module.

  • Batch size calculations drive customer demand and production launch differences.
  • Absolute importance of the information flow.
  • Sensitivity analysis indicates priority.
  • Need to see the whole system before making judgements.
  • Cannot use a reductionist approach to VSM.
  • Working capital analysis links leadtime impact to the money.
  • Departmental measures drive irrational behaviour for the system.
  • One team approach is so important.
  • Communication is so important; tell a story, have a hook.
  • Variety funnel can help guide future state development.
  • Accurate data is critical.
  • No or inaccurate data leads to big assumptions.
  • Data cleansing can take time but is essential.
  • Easy to misinterpret information seen the lens of “experience”.
  • ERP system and workflow often doesn’t reflect reality but is sub-ordinated to.
  • Pull systems are misunderstood and often seen as “Kanban”.
  • Product moving doesn’t always equate to flow.
  • We’re starting to emerge from the valley of despair!

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