Torbjørn Netland, professor of Operations Management at ETH Zürich, blogger at Better Operations, and an on-line correspondent of many years, had invited me to deliver a guest lecture in his course on Global Operations Strategy.
This elaborates on the topics of randomness versus uncertainty that I briefly touched on in a prior post. Always skittish about using dreaded words like “probability” or “randomness,” writers on manufacturing or service operations, even Deming, prefer to use “variability” or “variation” for the way both demand and performance change over time, but it doesn’t mean the same thing. For example, a hotel room that goes for $100/night in November through March and $200/night from April to October has a price that is variable but not random. The rates are published, and you know them ahead of time.
By contrast, to a passenger, the airfare from San Francisco to Chicago is not only variable but random. The airlines change tens of thousands of fares every day in ways you discover when you book a flight. Based on having flown this route four times in the past 12 months, however, you expect the fare to be in the range of $400 to $800, with $600 as the most likely. The information you have is not complete enough for you to know what the price will be but it does enable you to have a confidence interval for it.
“I have long felt that people have listened too intently to the analysts who have not actually “played the game” – the interpreters of Toyota’s management system, not the people who actually created it. I think that it is easy for all to agree that someone who actually created something is a much better guide than someone who studied it second-hand.[…] Original sources are the best sources to learn from and should form the fundamental basis of your understanding of TPS and Lean. ”
Sourced through Bob Emiliani
Michel Baudin‘s comments: The originators of Toyota’s production and management system are all dead. This includes Sakichi, Kiichiro and Eiji Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo, and others, which makes it difficult to learn from them through personal communication. We can read what little they published, or rely on the generations that came after them. The people Emiliani shows to the right of Taiichi Ohno as “originators,” Fujio Cho and Chihiro Nakao, actually are disciples of the originators, which isn’t quite the same. As Emiliani sees it, the alternative to learning from these people is learning from “interpreters” who, as he implies in the title, don’t know what they are talking about because they had no hand in creating it. Are these really the only choices?
“It is disrespectful to workers for Management to make promises that they cannot deliver on. However there are presently some academics and authors in the Lean community who say that Lean transformation should provide ‘Meaningful Work’ for all workers. This phrase is setting too high an expectation for our workers…that we will not be able to deliver on…”
Sourced through LinkedIn
Michel Baudin‘s comments: I agree. Just Another Car Factory? Lean Production and Its Discontents is a chronicle of the early years of CAMI, a GM-Suzuki joint venture in Canada, which describes labor problems as due to management overselling Lean to production operators. As a manager, it’s one thing to overpromise to your superiors and another to shop floor operators. They don’t react the same way. Superiors reward you for setting “stretch goals,” and punish you if you only commit to what you can deliver. It’s the project game, as it has been played by generations in American managers. With shop floor operators, on the other hand, you lose your credibility and your ability to lead.
There is nothing you can do to turn a job in which you repeat the same 60 seconds of activity 400 times a day into “meaningful work.” You can make it easier and safer, you can mitigate the monotony by rotating operators between stations every two hours, and you can involve operators in Kaizen,… All of this improves both the performance of the production line and the experience of working on it, but it still won’t make working on an assembly line the kind of jobs kids dream of doing when they grow up. Dennis is right to say that overpromising to workers is disrespectful. They can handle the truth.
“It’s finally here. The Routledge Companion to Lean Management has been published. 72 leading authors from 15 countries summarize the need-to-know about lean, as it continues its spread from Toyota’s assembly operations to healthcare and beyond. ”
Sourced through Torbjørn Netland’s better operations blog
Michel Baudin‘s full disclosure: I am one of the “72 leading authors” of this book, as you can in the cloud below. I contributed and overview and case study on Lean Logistics. I have, however, not received my own copy yet, so I can’t comment any further.
“Many topics in lean address how to deal with uncertainty and fluctuations (or mura for unevenness). There is a particularly neat trick for manual lines that self-organizes fluctuations in the workload: the Bucket Brigade! It does have some advantages, but it also has quite a few limitations and prerequisites for it to work. Most importantly it works best only for very short cycle times as for example picking materials. Unfortunately, these requirements are rarely mentioned in literature. Let me show you the basics work in this post before I go into some of the trickier details in the next post.”
Sourced through AllAboutLean
Michel Baudin‘s comments: The bucket-brigade system, also known as “bump-back,” is indeed a clever solution, often applied to mass-customization, as in the following examples of food service at Chipotle and Subway:
It is also used in the more complex process of custom bag assembly at Timbuk2 designs. See also John Bartholdi’s description and simulation of the system. The concept is discussed on pp. 141-142 of Working with Machines and, in this blog, as a sometimes preferred alternative to the baton-touch approach .
Incidentally, Christoph’s post-WW-II picture reminded me of a story I heard long ago about a hotel guest in Germany at that time complaining about hearing trains all night. “But there is no railroad near here,” said the innkeeper. Walking out, the guest saw a line of people passing bricks to each other, saying “Bitte schön, danke schön, bitte schön, danke schön,….”
“Any ERP replacement project will need to have a team involved in selection and implementation of the ERP. That team will have a project manager, an executive sponsor, several subject manager experts, one or more representatives from the ERP vendor, and, your IT manager.” (italics added)
Sourced through ERP Focus
Michel Baudin‘s comments: The notion of including a vendor rep in a team tasked with selecting an ERP product is interesting. To be fair, the article is about implementation — where it makes sense to involve the vendor — and the inclusion of selection in the opening sentence is most likely just sloppy editing. I hope no reader finds anything like it in my own writings.
In a previous post, I pointed out that manufacturing professionals’ eyes glaze over when they hear the word “probability.” Even outside manufacturing, most professionals’ idea of probability is that, if you throw a die, you have one chance in six of getting an ace. 2000 years ago, Claudius wrote a book on how to win at dice but the field of inquiry has broadened since, producing results that affect business, technology, science, politics, and everyday life.
In the age of big data, all professionals would benefit from digging deeper and becoming, at least, savvy recipients of probabilistic arguments prepared by others. The analysts themselves need a deeper understanding than their audience. With the software available today in the broad categories of data science or machine learning, however, they don’t need to master 1,000 pages of math in order to apply probability theory, any more than you need to understand the mechanics of gearboxes to drive a car.
It wasn’t the case in earlier decades, when you needed to learn the math and implement it in your own code. Not only is it now unnecessary, but many new tools have been added to the kit. You still need to learn what the math doesn’t tell you: which tools to apply, when and how, in order to solve your actual problems. It’s no longer about computing, but about figuring out what to compute and acting on the results.
Following are a few examples that illustrate these ideas, and pointers on concepts I have personally found most enlightening on this subject. There is more to come, if there is popular demand.
“Corporate investment is increasingly shifting from machinery and employees to robots and software. Why? Because CEOs think digital transformation will be a source of competitive advantage. And it is a transformation that they think they can execute more rapidly compared to Lean transformation. CEOs also think that automation and artificial intelligence will take on greater roles, while the work of employees will take on less significance over time. They think technology is becoming more valuable than employees.”
Sourced through Bob Emiliani’s blog
Michel Baudin‘s comments: “Digital transformation” is a quaint way of describing the growing pervasiveness of software in business, with its infrastructure of computers, computer-controlled devices, and networks. Digital is normally opposed to analog, as in music CDs versus vinyl LPs. The early work on industrial automation was based on analog mechanical, fluidic, or electronic control systems, and its “digital transformation” happened decades ago with the advent of numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This is not what Bob is talking about, but I am not sure what he is talking about.
“Lean thinking needs transformation, major expansion, and a basic shift in objectives – from improving operational efficiency to something much bigger: Continuous Regeneration of ourselves, our human economy, and of the natural world. All three depend on each other. To do that we must learn to think more than technique deep.”
Sourced through the Compression Institute.
Michel Baudin‘s comments: While I agree with Doc Hall that there is more to life in society than manufacturing or even business operations and that we need to continuously rethink the conclusions we have reached on “ourselves, our human economy, and of the natural world,” I don’t see much value in putting all of these deep meditations under Lean, which I see as nothing but a convenient label to enable car companies to adopt Toyota’s system without referencing a competitor, and to allow organizations outside the car industry to borrow and adapt concepts from this system.