09 April 2010

People have asked me in the past year what Lean Idea Management meant. They assumed it had to do with managing Kaizen in lean organizations. Although in reality our Idea Management tool would bring value to Lean organizations, it also applies well in all organizations.

The reason I named the blog Lean Idea Management, and really what drove the design of EurekaTool was the need to eliminate the non-value added steps often associated with that assembly line called “ideation-to-implementation”. There are many areas of waste in a typical continuous improvement process, even in lean companies.

For one, most ideas are recorded on paper, or perhaps a Kaizen Card. The idea has to be communicated to several individuals in order to align needed resources or get buy-in. Typically this happens in meetings. Ideas, and supporting documentation are put in manila folders and passed around for evaluation and eventually if the idea is good, it is handed over to someone or a team of implementers. Ultimately, most organizations I have seen, also have a coordinator or team of coordinators that walk these folders around, hand them over, retrieve them and even coordinate the meetings. Most of the time these coordinators, or gatekeepers, become bottle necks under the extreme load of keeping the idea assembly line moving, and at times have been known to make ideas ‘accidentally’ disappear.

If you try to picture this ‘idea assembly line’ you can envision a lot of people walking to and from these ideas, instead of the ideas coming to them. All this walking back-and-forth is non value-add. Then you have the bottle neck; the gatekeepers sifting through tons of paperwork, and trying to coordinate the whole thing. They try to chase down individuals who have sat on ideas for weeks (if not months). Imagine this process for 120,000 ideas?

Essentially, the manual process boils down to an assembly line that is not balanced – too much work on few individuals - , and no concept of Kanban – there is no natural method of pulling the idea through the process, and constantly has to be pulled and pushed by the coordinators (literally walking back and forth with the folders). Ultimately there are no Poka Yokes and visual flags alerting individuals and management that a good idea has not been evaluated on time, implemented, or perhaps lost… (which is common in these manual systems.)

So in general, as lean organizations engage in continuous improvement, very often they fail to improve that continuous improvement process itself, and this is where idea management software can truly solve many of the problems, add-value, and eliminate the waste encountered in this most necessary process (if you’re going to sustain Lean).

1) Elimination of paperwork and eventual transcriptions into a database or spreadsheet. Ideas are entered by idea generators via the web (typically an on-site kiosk)
2) Routing of ideas to multiple champions, depending on area or idea type, thus eliminating the overloading of the coordinator.
3) Electronic notifications of task assignments and full transparency (to everyone) where the idea is on the ‘assembly line’
4) Alarms and escalation of tasks which are overdue.
5) And last but not least, the metrics and visual communication tools needed to keep everyone informed of how well the process is performing: Idea Quality, throughput time at different stages, participation, and (of-course) cost savings or process savings generated.

Bottom line, the software becomes the virtual assembly line, and the resources needed to evaluate and implement only get engaged when necessary. The notifications and alerts keep the line moving, and the administrator no longer becomes a full time resource assigned to keep the process moving, but instead a part time maintenance worker that can spend time on other value-add processes throughout the organization.

Ultimately, when the system is inefficient, it leads to individuals who have great ideas to lose faith in the system and cease their contributions - there is absolutely no value in ideas, only in their implementation.

Posted on Friday, April 09, 2010 by George R.


05 April 2010

If there is anything to learn from the Toyota accelerator fiasco is that there is a vast disconnect in the reporting systems that currently exist in organizations to stay abreast of safety situations which could be deemed ‘catastrophic’ (loss of life impact).

Part of the reason that Toyota did not address the accelerator problem more decisively was the fact that the external sensors (data collection points) that they were utilizing were not well integrated and collected a lot of erroneous or misleading data. NHTSA was perhaps one of the biggest contributors to this problem by not feeding all accelerator issues back to Toyota, or providing collateral data indicating the problem may have been driver error and thus adding ‘noise’ to the data needed to fully understand the extent and the root of the problem.

Now in no way am I saying Toyota was innocent in this matter, but I do want to defend them in their methodic ways of not jumping to conclusions without letting the data speak first. One of the core teachings of Lean is that “you cannot improve what you cannot measure” however measuring also has to be accurate. If data is inaccurate, as was the case with the acceleration problem, then it is understandable that there was a delay before Toyota clearly saw that there was a major problem to be addressed.

The dilemma stems from the fact that this dirty data cannot be used as a defense. To a degree most auto manufacturers, and to that extent, most organizations are using sensors that are potentially flawed and inaccurate, let alone internal sensors. When it comes to safety matters there really is no room for error since bad data is as good as no data, and people’s lives are worth the extra time and effort to ensure data is accurate and the handling of the data is treated with priority.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with someone at Schlumberger regarding their QUEST program. The quest program is an idea management system focused on safety issues and based on the DuPont STOP methodology. (For those not aware of the STOP methodology, essentially it’s every employee’s responsibility to identify and report all areas of safety risk.) Schlumberger realized that in the oil services arena risks are plentiful and thus decided to bring some solid structure behind their process. Their QUEST system manages all global incidents and keeps every Schlumberger employee abreast of the latest incidents and risks, and provides them with an immediate ability to record risks they detect and possible solutions. However, the key component is the escalation… top management is advised of risks which have not been addressed promptly or catastrophic incidents (loss of life, environmental damage, etc).

As I learned more about Schlumberger’s process I also learned that in the oil services industry, Safety (and the environment) are so important that not having solid processes to manage these points can cost contractors their business with big oil (Exxon, Shell, Chevron, etc).

Applying this lesson to Toyota, and all the other Toyotas out there, at the first indication that an accelerator pedal was involved in a loss of life incident, Mr. Toyoda should have been notified. Was he? Probably not, and perhaps it was after several losses that someone, perhaps a data clerk sifting through warranty data noticed there was a possible problem.

In conclusion, with the kind of technologies and applications available on the market, there is no reason why any company should not adopt an idea management software system to streamline their continuous improvement initiatives, but more importantly, keep their workers and customers safe. Companies spend billions of dollars each year on software to keep their inventory and orders under control, why not spend some of that on keeping loss of life and lost time incidents under control? After all, as we learned with Ford and Firestone, and now with Toyota, loss of life can be costly and especially for those that fail to take all measures necessary to protect it.

Posted on Monday, April 05, 2010 by George R.

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01 April 2010

I am guilty of making the same mistake many make about innovation – believing it’s usually about state-of-the-art inventions. I recently blogged about the Apple iPAD and did a good job of criticizing the lack of new technology. After all, the iPAD is essentially something between a large iPhone or a small laptop that most companies will be able to emulate. From the outside this doesn’t look like a great invention, however, leave it to Chuck Frey to set me straight.

I came across his recent blogpost “Seth Godin on the power of remarkable ideas” and realized that I had failed to acknowledge what Apple does best. They historically have not been a technology leader. (The Mac (1984) was not the first computer to have a mouse or have a user friendly GUI. The iPod was not the first mp3 music player.) However, Apple has always had the ability to perfect a product or service and continually improve it until it shines. They are able, better than any other company, to determine what people really want, and deliver value to them… after all, innovation is about delivering VALUE!

Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2010 by George R.

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