Lean Article

Davis Balestracci’s picture

By: Davis Balestracci

What is the Vasa? It was a Swedish warship built in 1628. It was supposed to be the grandest, largest, and most powerful warship of its time. King Gustavus Adolphus himself took a keen personal interest and insisted on an entire extra deck above the waterline to add to the majesty and comfort of the ship, and to make room for the 64 guns he wanted it to carry.

This innovation went beyond the shipbuilder knowledge of the time... and would make it unstable. No one dared tell him. On its maiden voyage, the Vasa sailed less than a mile and sank to the bottom of Stockholm harbor in full view of a horrified public, assembled to see off its navy’s—and Europe’s—most ambitious warship to date.

What reminded me of the Vasa? The time has been ripe for visible motivational speakers to weigh in on Covid-19 and “inspire the troops.” From a speech using the Vasa as a backdrop:

“I want to see healthcare become world-class. I want us to promise things to our patients and their families that we have never before been able to promise them.... I am not satisfied with what we give them today.... And as much respect as I have for the stresses and demoralizing erosion of trust in our industry, I am getting tired of excuses....

Anne Trafton’s picture

By: Anne Trafton

When MIT announced in March 2020 that most research labs on campus would need to ramp down to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, Canan Dagdeviren’s lab was ready.

For the past two years, Dagdeviren and her lab manager, David Sadat, have run the Conformable Decoders Group using “lean lab” management principles, working closely with MIT’s Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Office. Every item in their lab has an assigned function and location, and there are strict procedures in place describing how everything is to be used, put away, and replenished. As a result, it took the lab just 15 minutes to close down operations on March 13, 2020.

“Given that everyone in our lab is very well-trained with these checklists, everyone took care of their own experiments and the tools that they use,” says Dagdeviren, an assistant professor in MIT’s Media Lab. “I was then able to spend the rest of the time before the campus shutdown communicating with my students, motivating them, and preparing them mentally for this upcoming period of time.”

Brian Lagas’s picture

By: Brian Lagas

When most people think of lean processes, they believe the goal is to optimize things in a step-by-step approach. The result that companies using lean methods can look forward to is incremental improvements brought about by the elimination of waste.

Individuals who stick with this definition often assert that lean principles oppose innovation. That’s because “innovation” is typically considered a product-based form of invention that causes disruption. Lean manufacturing is all about following well-defined processes and figuring out how to make them better. Innovation, on the other hand, usually occurs by uprooting current processes or blatantly not following them.

It may appear that lean manufacturing and innovation are opposed. However, some analysts assert that when companies recognize the compatibility between lean principles and innovation they will accelerate past their competition.

Carrie Van Daele’s picture

By: Carrie Van Daele

Crossing the street or stepping backward when you encounter another person has already become a habit, as has a routine elbow bump, instead of a handshake.

And that is definitely what is needed during a health crisis. But when the time is right, as a society we must bounce back to social connectivity to prevent productivity and relationships from being forever damaged.

Humans are social beings. Sure, we have varying levels of desire for social interaction; some of us want to spend time alone, while others are more inclined to want to hang out in groups. But in one form or another, we all strive for connection with one another.

The physical distancing and forced isolation was a shock to our social system. Although it is helping the health emergency, in the long run it will hinder companies’ efforts to ramp up productivity.

During the late 1970s, I remember the Big Three automotive companies launched a “Quality of Work Life” workshop to rebuild trust between employees and their superiors after an economic downturn resulting in layoffs. The Big Three knew ramping up productivity would happen only with repaired relationships.

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

So many companies are shifting their employees to working from home to address the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Yet they’re not considering the potential quality disasters that can occur as a result of this transition.

An example of this is what one of my coaching clients experienced more than a year before the pandemic hit. Myron is the risk and quality management executive in a medical services company with about 600 employees. He was one of the leaders tasked by his company’s senior management team with shifting the company’s employees to a work-from-home setup, due to rising rents on their office building.

Specifically, Myron led the team that managed risk and quality issues associated with the transition for all 600 employees to telework, due to his previous experience in helping small teams of three to six people in the company transition to working from home in the past. The much larger number of people who had many more diverse roles they had to assist now was proving to be a challenge. So was the short amount of time available to this project, which was only four weeks, and resulted from a failure in negotiation with the landlord of the office building.

Celia Paulsen’s picture

By: Celia Paulsen

Nobody likes business to be slow. If you’re in a fast-paced world like manufacturing, seeing your machines or employees idle can drive a person insane. If you’re used to your production line working to capacity and suddenly business slows down, it can be a frustrating time.

When I was in the U.S. Army, we used our downtime to train and clean. On one occasion, we spent nearly two weeks waiting for a change of orders. By the end of the first week, every weapon, every desk, and every blade of grass was spotless. There was nothing left to clean, so we cleaned it all over again!

Over time, I learned that downtime can actually provide a good opportunity to refocus before driving forward again. It offers time to take inventory, get a little creative, and do some renovation, literally and figuratively. My personal downtime to-do list includes organizing my papers, redesigning my closet, playing with my 3D printer, replacing my stair treads, fixing that one light switch, learning something I’ll soon forget, and though you may laugh, improving my cybersecurity posture.

It’s true; I’m a cybersecurity geek. I’ve been a cybersecurity researcher at NIST since 2011 and am now detailed to NIST MEP as the cybersecurity services specialist.

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

Even in the midst of the pandemic, product safety and quality remain critical. For many manufacturers, complex quality management systems and procedures stand in the way of agile responses and effective operational optimization. Cloud technology provides the means to dramatically simplify quality management.

If you’re like many quality pros and manufacturing leaders right now, you’re working crazy hours, possibly on a different schedule or from a remote location. You’re struggling to find new ways to get the data that operators are collecting on the plant floor and support workers as they adapt to rapidly changing demands. You’re also likely scrambling to coordinate with your plant managers and create custom reports for your executive teams.

It’s a challenging time, and if you’re lucky, you’re keeping on top of the unique demands this time has put on you. But even in the middle of this sprint, product safety and quality remain paramount.

Multiple Authors
By: Donald J. Wheeler, Al Pfadt

Each day we receive data that seek to quantify the Covid-19 pandemic. These daily values tell us how things have changed from yesterday, and give us the current totals, but they are difficult to understand simply because they are only a small piece of the puzzle. And like pieces of a puzzle, data only begin to make sense when they are placed in context. And the best way to place data in context is with an appropriate graph.

When using epidemiological models to evaluate different scenarios it is common to see graphs that portray the number of new cases, or the demand for services, each day.1 Typically, these graphs look something like the curves in figure 1.


Figure 1: Epidemiological models produce curves of new cases under different scenarios in order to compare peak demands over time. (Click image for larger view.)

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit every industry with a barrage of challenges. The impacts on the manufacturing sector are already extending far beyond factory walls. And for now, the depth of those impacts and the expectation for recovery are unknown.

Fortunately, manufacturers are a highly adaptable breed, and many have found ways to pivot quickly to continue to provide the vital products we all need. Some organizations are even retooling and repurposing their production lines to produce entirely new products. Perfumers and distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. T-shirt makers are switching to face masks. Automakers are now producing ventilators.

These companies stepped up early and responded quickly. And we are grateful.

But for many manufacturers, regardless of their grit and preparation, the situation has thrown into sharp relief the need for technology solutions that enable faster, broader access to information about their operations—and better support for both onsite and remote workers.

A sudden shove toward digital transformation

Manufacturing organizations have embraced many aspects of Industry 4.0. However, the transition has happened at different levels for different organizations. Many companies have held on to legacy systems, especially in the realm of quality management.

Ken Maynard’s picture

By: Ken Maynard

When educational and public sectors consider applying a proven method like lean Six Sigma, the perception persists that this “manufacturing program” will not work in a nonmanufacturing environment. Along with that limiting assumption, there is an underlying expectation within the service industry that it requires a substantially customized approach.

This makes perfect sense. It’s logical. If I’m not making the proverbial “widget”—if I’m processing transactions, delivering services, or providing a learning environment—then how do I use lean Six Sigma? It’s got a proven track record of success in manufacturing, but this success can morph into a hindrance when considering spreading the gains in nonmanufacturing.

If a different approach is necessary to successful lean Six Sigma implementation in the public sector, then how do we adapt the approach without compromising the fundamentals that lead to success?

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