Project Kaizen: Monday

First is an introduction for benefit of my readers rather than new visitors. Previous entries are What is Kaizen and the Crisis of Kaizen (itemized costs of a Kaizen in the needle trades).

When I see designers doing things that are wasteful -like jury rigging a 45″ wide marker to fit a 54″ spread rather than spending 30 bucks to make a new marker- it makes me want to cry. Actually, that’s a lie because I have cried. I know that with continued practices like that, the designer is going to lose money and somebody’s going to get axed -just because you can’t follow that wasteful practice through to its logical conclusion doesn’t mean the effects aren’t there. Who is going to get fired? Is it Elizabeth with 3 kids to feed because her husband dumped her after her mastectomy for breast cancer? Or is it Kathy who’s trying to make a new life for herself and sewing for you from the battered women’s shelter where she lives (when she’s not spending the night at the children’s hospital where her desperately ill disabled child is admitted) and ferrying work back and forth to you on her bicycle across town. All over this country are disadvantaged women who are desperate for work and your paycheck is the only thing keeping us from enduring the degradation of standing in the welfare line. In my opinion, not only is lean not mean, not being lean is mean!

It’s through experiences like these that I came to know lean intuitively; it’s something that just made sense. I wrote about it before I knew it had a name. I am not a consultant or a project leader for lean or running a factory like these other guys writing for Project Kaizen. I do not pretend to be qualified to write about it except in terms of my own experience; I’m a factory-floor grunt (pattern maker) and lean is personal for me. I could best describe my role and participation in lean as a cheerleader or implementer and in order to get my designers to follow the concepts, I have to apply it directly in terms of their own experience. Otherwise it just becomes a lot of theory and designers don’t see how it directly applies to them.

I feel entitled to write about lean manufacturing because pattern makers are the backbone to the production process. Pattern makers are a quirky hybrid of a materials and industrial engineers and while we do not lead the process, “pattern makers have more effect over the outcome of costs and quality than any other single person in the process” (cite: WSJ). It’s amazing how this is glossed over in school; the focus is always on designers who lead the process when success is always dependent upon implementation and follow through of design. In a nutshell, I write about lean because I know that lean manufacturing is the only method that will restore competitiveness to domestic manufacturing. As ever, my interest has been job creation. Not everyone can work in a service industry or go to college yet people still need worthwhile work to support their families. Call my interest socially and politically motivated. Most needle trades workers are female, poorly educated and often single mothers; some of us are disabled. Or maybe you’d call it self interest since I am or have been all of these things. To me, lean means jobs -my job! You owe it to us. Don’t waste, keep us employed. For me, lean is personal.

Anyway, this is why I became involved in Project Kaizen. I am strenuously encouraging all of you to visit the other blogs involved in the project because they know more about it than I do; I’m just learning. The topic we’re supposed to write about today is:

The Case for Project kaizen
We’ll answer why do kaizens when you are doing a one-of-a-kind project or when the project team members won’t be working together on a regular basis.

Why should one conduct Kaizens when project participants are limited? Boy, I can answer that in many ways. First of all, many of you are not manufacturing in house, you’re outsourcing your production to contractors either in your communities or larger established entities. Now, I have long advocated using contractors but maybe I haven’t made the reasons for that clear. The reasons you should be outsourcing at the outset is because you need to learn. Hopefully you’ll eventually bring everything in house where you’ll have better controls and greater economies but for now, you have to use contractors because you’ll learn how to manage your own production by watching and working with contractors.

You should Kaizen for two reasons. The most obvious reason is to ensure a quality outcome for even an ad hoc project. In this case, I want Project Kaizen to provide benefit to my readers outside of my admittedly narrow viewpoints. If it’s a production lot you’re working on, you obviously depend on a quality outcome. Secondly, you should Kaizen the process because it’s practice for ensuring the outcome of future similar projects -it’s training ground. You’ve gained some skills and acumen in the process and have learned where things are most likely to go wrong.You’ll get a handle on the weak links at the outset. Third, you should Kaizen for unrelated reasons, mostly industrial relationships. As I’ve said before, this is a really small business and people talk. While you may not hire a given contractor or pattern maker in a subsequent process because your next project doesn’t involve their skill sets, you will need the good will of past alliances to locate future services and products. If you’ve troubleshooted the process with these people, they’ll be much happier to provide you with referrals to their peers because you won’t make them look bad. About the latter; as I’ve said before, designers never refer other designers to us. We get work through our peers. I am much more likely to get work from a referral from another pattern maker than I am to get work from a designer referring another designer. Another pattern maker isn’t going to pass off a pain in the butt customer to me because it’s a reflection on him or her. If you Kaizen an activity or project, whoever you work with is going to have a great deal more confidence in you because you’ve discussed all the potentiality for difficulties at the outset, ensuring few surprises (which are never pleasant). I’d have no problem referring a designer to another pattern maker who was this involved in the process because they’d make me look good. If I send that pattern maker a good customer, they’ll be much more likely to send me quality clients too.

Please visit the other participants in today’s project. They are:
Hal Macomber Reforming Project Management
Mark Graban Lean Manufacturing Blog
Bill Waddell Evolving Excellence
Joe Ely Learning about Lean
Chuck Frey Innovation Weblog
Norman Bodek Kaikaku
Jon Miller Panta Rei

Stay tuned; the remainder of the week we’ll be writing about:
Tuesday: Workgroup kaizen
Our attention will be on making improvements for sub-team members performing the same type of work.

Wednesday: Workstream kaizen
We’ll look at making improvements across a subset of a value stream. This often crosses organizational boundaries.

Thursday: Quick ‘n Easy kaizen
These are improvements that affect the ease of one person doing a job and within ones authority to make a change.

Friday: kaizen Blitz
These improvements are focused on the whole project. A blitz takes time and preparation. It is intended to produce a big result.

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  3. Patty Sampson says:

    Kathleen, or perhaps you should spell it Kathlean! It was fun to read your article about Kaizen. My daughter was recently made the “Lead Lean” director for a large health care facility in Minneapolis. She has been telling me about “lean”, and it is a fascinating way of approaching projects. I am now going to get her input as I get ready to introduce a new sewn product. Her organization is sending her to Japan in May to further study Kaizen. I taught her to sew when she was a very young girl, and now she can teach her mom how to maximize quality, and production by teaching an old dog some new tricks. Thanks, Patty

  4. Kathleen says:

    wow, that’s cool! I hope you’ll keep me posted on what she’s doing in Japan, what an awesome opportunity.

    I’ve been writing about lean manufacturing for quite awhile now. Look under the category of lean manufacturing for more topics. That’s great that you’re going to do it. Lean is the only way to go. Start lean and stay lean! I’ll be posting on it more soon, mostly on the topic of “standard work”, something we really haven’t talked about much but I think it’s time.

    And I think Jess/Josh also called me Kathlean before too. Makes me laugh :)

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