Lean Tools, Workplace

Reducing setup time to improve the operation

Today a team from the energy company was working on replacing one electrical post.   The work started with two guys and a truck.  Then a couple of trucks more arrived, six to eight people arrive, leave after a while and then come back again.  After an hour another truck comes to drop off the post that was for about one hour laying on the dirt.  The post they planned to replace was in my neighbor’s back yard. I was wondering how they were going to dig in the hole and lift the pole when a fifth truck arrived hauling a funny little truck.

It was a skid-steer loader equipped with a hole digger auger.  I learned that the skid loader has also capabilities to carry the pole and put it up and they drive it using a wired remote control.  All the walking around had me nervous but at this point, I was starting to feel really anxious.  A crew was clearing the area, cutting branches and trimming bushes while five or six guys were just looking.  When the cleaning crew finished nobody was doing anything productive, just walking up and down the street until the little truck arrived.  Then a couple of them started to take parts out of one of the trucks and for a while, there was so much confusion as to what they needed and how to put together some of those parts that almost an hour went by before they decided that everything was ready to start.

To start moving the little truck out of the trailer, that is.  The skid-steer driver was all the time watching the others but never try to get it off the trailer and have it ready to load the post.  Nobody thought about getting the parts ready while the cleaning crew was working.

One of the most used lean manufacturing tools is Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) or quick change over.  It is used to reduce the setup or change over time.  The goal is to reduce this time to ten minutes or less.  Some of the techniques used are: convert setup steps to be external (performed while the process is running, simplify internal setup (e.g. eliminating the need of tools by replacing bolts with knobs and levers) and, eliminate non-essential operations.

A good leader is curious about ways to improve the operation and engage the team on the continuous improvement process walking them through a series of whys to identify the root cause of the downtime for this process and then figure out solutions.  Here are examples of possible solutions.  After the site assessment, the first crew will start cleaning the area while the second crew starts searching for parts and completing their setup.  Plan the skid-steer delivery to be right after the post, upon receiving the third crew get it off the trailer and align it to the post to further prepare it for loading and move it to location.  To ensure the same process happen each time, the team can create standardized work instructions.  Team participation is critical for the success of the improvement exercise.

Lean manufacturing tools are not just for the manufacturing floor, they can be applied to any industry.  Some of them are just common sense, like reducing all the time wasted walking, waiting for equipment or parts or looking for them.  Do not be content with the status quo, always look for ways to improve.


Why teamwork is important for your career?

“A major reason capable people fail to advance is that they don’t work well with their colleagues.” – Lee Iacocca


The word teamwork and its importance for business are included every day in many conversations and other types of communication like blogs and presentations.  We also receive training about it and/or participate in team building activities very often.  There is so much noise about it that some people may think it is overrated.  Well, it is not.

Most people understand why teamwork is important for companies, for the very same reasons it is important for individuals that desire to advance on their careers.  And this importance is even more critical if the person want to have a leadership role.

Some time ago while working with the management group to decide who would be part of the team that will work on the initial lean manufacturing implementation activities there was a lot of back and forth when the general manager mentioned one name.  The reason for the discussion was that this person was notorious for his lack of teamwork.  John (not his real name), worked for the company for over twenty years, probably anybody had more experience and knowledge than him.  He is very reliable, John will come to work every day on time, will finish his projects successfully and he volunteers for those tasks that nobody else wants.  All these things make him a very good candidate for a supervisor position, even a future manager but, his lack of teamwork has been on the way for a promotion for years.

Why teamwork is so important?  When team members are led by an individual that understand and practice teamwork they will be driven to share the same behavior.  Communication of each member responsibilities, how they interact with other members responsibilities and their impact on the output help to understand and share the vision and goals.  Now, is not the individual contribution but the synergy created by mutual support.

Collaboration within a group can help solve difficult problems or create innovative ways to do things. Brainstorming is a good opportunity for the team to exchange ideas and come up with creative ways of doing things. By working together, teams can find the solutions that work best.  By finding those incredible solutions, team members will feel a greater sense of accomplishment;  also cooperation, trust, and respect are built one step at the time.

If John and others like him cannot be examples of teamwork and more importantly cannot drive the team to work as a team, then leadership positions are out of their future.  But not everything is lost, it takes time but it is possible to learn how to communicate effectively and be a part of the team.  The following are some important characteristics of a good team member:

  • Respect your coworkers, listen to their words, practice tolerance when you don’t agree with their point of view.  Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.
  • Be honest and fair.  Explain your point of view, use facts, keep the discussion professional but real. Make sure what you say and what you do are giving the same message. In other words, keep your verbal and nonverbal language on the same page. This limits confusion.
  • Focus on the behavior or problem, not on the person. People become defensive when criticized personally. Keep the discussion focused on the task and the issues.
  • Shares the Load. A good team member does his or her fair share of the work. Be reliable, when you say you are going to do something, do it!  There is a sense of equity and fairness in the good team member, this is important for team members’ collective motivation.
  • Validate others’ contributions. Compliment team members on good ideas and suggestions. This makes them feel a part of the team and encourages future participation.

The list above is not a magical solution to be a better team member.  You need to know what you lack and consciously work to improve it.  It is about been aware of your weaknesses and practice, practice, practice.

Five S

Digital Clutter on your Computer

These days most of us have computers at home or at least intelligent cell phones which are pretty much a computer on your pocket.  We have home the same issues we have in the office with digital clutter.  Digital clutter is distracting, some people have an account on every single social media they know of and to keep up with all those accounts they need time.

This means that the joy of the social media experience is not met and what is worst is taking away time from creating experiences with the real people around.  Having too many apps on the phone, along with too many pictures lead to running out of space on their phones, which means the need to upgrade to a newer model with more memory that soon will have to upgrade again.  The same happens with the home computer.

The idea about social media and technology is to use it to enjoy and facilitate our lives not to act against us.  I listed before some things to deal with digital clutter at the office, those can also be used at home along with these other ideas:

1.  Email account – I have a couple of friends that have way over a thousand emails on their personal Inbox, which is crazy.  If this is your case as well, you have to do the following: get rid of those subscriptions, unsubscribe from newsletters and ads that you are not interested anymore and make a routine to read your emails daily or at least weekly; do not let them accumulate.  Another thing to look at on your email account is your contacts, avoid duplicates.  Sometimes we have the person saved as two different contacts, one with the phone number and another with the email address.  Some emails apps will identify the duplicates for you and will ask if you want to combine or delete if you have it use It.

2.  Desktop – Do not clutter your desktop with shortcuts for every application, program or document you have, it will not help to be more efficient.  Keep shortcuts just for those application or programs that you use very often and folders for your documents.  Keep in mind that the more folders you have on your desktop the slower the computer will be at start-up.

3.  Documents – Be smart about those folders that I told you to create, use a logic name related to the documents you keep inside.  If you have thousands of pictures and or lots of documents, consider keeping some or all on a cloud service.  The rule to use the cloud is the same, do not create too many folders, keep them organize and delete duplicate or no needed files.

4. Programs or applications – Sometimes we experiment with different applications searching for the right one but when we finally find the perfect app, we do not go back to uninstall the old ones.  Uninstalling old programs or application will free up space on the hard drive.  While checking for unused apps, check also for drivers, digital manuals and apps from old devices no longer in use and uninstall or delete those as well.

5. Media (Pictures/Music/Videos) – The good thing about digital, is that you can keep all the photos, music, books, videos and movies that you want.  That is also the bad thing about digital media.  One thing to avoid is to keep duplicates, like five versions of the same song.  Sometimes we shoot fifty photographs of the same scene to choose one, we don’t need to keep all fifty of them, delete the bad ones to free up tons of space on your disk.  To facilitate the filing process, create the folder, choose the keepers and delete the others right after uploading the pictures from the camera.

6. Internet browser – Your internet browser can be your best friend or not, it takes some time but you can manage to have a browser that will help you to enjoy your time and fight clutter.  Let’s start with the bookmarks and reading lists.  As with everything else, delete those that are no longer needed and then create a folder system for what you need.  Un-subscribe from blogs that you are not interested anymore.  Cookies and temporary internet files accumulate over time and create space and speed issues on your computer.  Learn how to delete them and do it every once in a while, this needs to be part of the computer preventive maintenance.

After uninstalling programs and applications and deleting documents, pictures and others a final step is to clean up your disc.  Learn how to analyze, clean up and complete defragmentation on your computer, this is another way to free up some space and keep your computer healthy.   Keep your computer and phone clutter free and enjoy!

Continuous Improvement, Workplace

Everything will be ok

As leaders, there are countless ways we influence our teams.  As human beings, there are countless ways we can influence our teams.  Leadership is a key element in continuous improvement initiatives, those who can manage their emotions are likely to be more engaged in their work.

Our mood is different every day; and our energy level, positivism, and focus will be affected by it.  As leaders, we cannot let our emotions control our actions.  The workplace is full of opportunities to derail our continuous improvement efforts; different levels of engagement within our team, roadblocks in the form of people who do not believe, machine downtime, last-minute orders, absenteeism, lack of support from management and toxic work environments.  How we manage those challenges will determine the success of our efforts, but more important is the way we manage our emotions.

People are watching our reaction every time something arise, positive reactions will influence positive behavior in our team.  The ability to react on a positive way is a learned behavior, requires practice.  The more we learn how to identify and understand our emotions the more we learn about how those emotions influence our behavior and ultimately how we can control and use them in our favor.  Those who understand their emotions can capitalize on them to overcome obstacles keeping a good mood and modeling positive behaviors.

The ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others is known as emotional intelligence (EI) and is a very important trait for leadership success.  People with a high degree of EI know what they are feeling, what their emotions mean, and how they can affect other people.  Every day will come with a different challenge, sometimes the same challenge over and over; emotional intelligence is what helps us to work with them expecting a positive outcome every time.  Keeping your cool when things go differently from expected is not an easy task but if you can manage to do it, your team will learn how to do it too.  A good leader is also honest, there are times on which expecting a good outcome is impossible.  When we hit those, it is ok to accept it, regroup, make a new plan and keep going.

How to keep yourself calm on difficult situations is a huge challenge, in my humble opinion (by no means an expert opinion) is that everything comes down to how well you know yourself.  The critical step is to know your emotions, to identify how you feel and learn how to control your feelings.  When I recognize that I need time to control myself, I take a walk.  Waking through the plant, talking with people almost always make me feel better, helps me to calm down and gain a different perspective.  Sometimes I even talk about the situation with them, and the conclusion is that everything will be alright.  Train the mind to use positive words and stay clear from negative ones is a way to keep you and your team moving in the right direction.