The Difference Between Simple and Easy

A while ago, my boss made an interesting distinction.  Someone made the comment that lean was “easy”.  He said, “No, lean is simple, but it isn’t easy”.  I thought it would be fun to dig into this a little.  Sometimes the most profound things are “simple”.  I think that this statement that Nick made is one of those things.

Several years ago, we were holding a post job review on a project in Santa Cruz.  This project had several different elements.  Some punched windows, some curtain wall, some vent windows, louvers and some corrugated siding.  We track our labor by each system so part of the review is to talk about what went well and where we can improve and look at that by system.  Our field lead man made the point that the most difficult part of the project was the siding.  He felt we should avoid that material and scope of work in the future because of the amount of work it required.  The PM looked at the numbers and said “that was the most profitable part of the project!”.  So, the fact that it was “hard” was not the issue since they actually performed the work in less hours than we estimated.  The other “easier” systems had run over on hours.  Of all the systems on this job, the corrugated siding was the “simplest”.  You got the material in sheet form.  There was only one width and one length available.  You just cut it in on the site to fit.  It did require more manual labor on the site, but it was simple.  Now, think of the curtain wall system.  It wasn’t hard.  Unitized wall is fairly easy to set in the field.  You hook it up with a crane and set it in place.  But it isn’t simple.  Tons of engineering, shop drawings, fabrication tickets, automatic machinery, different vendors, glass sizes, and other elements go into creating this system that ends up being easy to set.  But no one would call it “simple”.

In lean, we are really searching for simplicity.  We don’t want complicated systems that take tons of “non value added” steps to create.  We are looking to eliminate the “waste” and only have value flow to our customer.  So we look to simplify the system.  We look to simplify the shop drawings and the tickets.  We look to simplify the fabrication required.  And with each simpler step, we remove waste.  Does that make it easy?  No.  Easy would be to just do what you did yesterday.  Easy would be to not challenge yourself each day to find a better way.  Easy is the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.  Making things simpler is the hard work.  There is nothing easy about it.

As another example, look at De La Salle football.  They built a simple system that created a 151 game winning streak that ran from 1992 – 2004.  Was it easy?  No.  They had to work hard every day, every game, every year to beat their rivals.  But even though the players they started with were just average and the players change every year, they managed to win every game for 12 years in a row.  Simplicity.  Speed off the ball was a key simple strategy and they made it work.  Tons of hard work went into getting that simple idea to flow.

So, don’t spend too much time in your lean journey looking for easy.  Spend your time trying to simplify your processes, simplify your systems, and remove steps.  Paul Akers had 4 things to identify to see if you should proceed with any improvement idea.  1.  Is it safer?  If it has the potential to make it less safe, do not proceed.  2.  Will this change improve quality?  If it has the potential to make quality worse, do not proceed.  Is it simpler?  If it has the potential to make things more complicated, do not proceed.  Finally, will it make it faster?  If not, it is not an improvement.  These checks are in order of importance, so if you can’t pass the safety test, don’t move on.  If you get past safety and can’t pass the quality step, don’t move on.  But his third step is simpler.  Even if it will make it easier (save time) you should forego any improvement that makes things less complicated even if it will save you time.

So think a little on this idea and let me know how you will apply it in your work.

Heading to Japan

Heading to Japan

During the first week in March, I will be visiting Japan.  I was invited on a tour being conducted by Norman Bodek.  Norman has been to Japan over 80 times and is responsible for bringing many of the books on lean published in Japan back to the United States.  Nick (my boss) had been invited on the trip by Paul Akers.  This is a fairly large group so I will get to meet a bunch of new people!

We are starting off in Tokyo.  We will be there for a couple of days and then move on to Nagoya.  In Nagoya we will visit Toyota and Mitsubishi.  We then move down to Kobe where we will visit the Mazda plant.  Our final stop is in Kyoto.

During this tour, we will be learning the Harada method from Norman.  Mr. Takashi Harada created a method of self development that speaks to the human side of lean.  It is a way to instill self reliance in each person by helping them achieve their goals.  I am in the middle of reading The Harada Method book and establishing my goal for the trip.

I will go into detail on my blog about my experience in Japan.  Since many people will not have this opportunity to go to Japan or spend a week with this amazing group of people, I hope to document my trip here on my blog and share the things I learn and see.

Learning to Read

Learning to Read

I have always loved to read.  In the last few years, I’ve devoured a lot of business books.  Mostly books on leadership and books on Lean Manufacturing.  These have the most impact on my career and our business so I really find the ideas and concepts give me new ways to approach the problems we run into at the office.

I always looked as books a lot like movies.  They are great the first time but you don’t really re-watch an old movie if there is a new one available.  My view on this had changed lately.

In our management group, we read books together.  We pick a book and read a chapter each week and we have to write 2 distinctions from each chapter and explain how it would apply to our company and what value it would provide.  This has been a valuable process for all of us.  It helps us learn together and have a shared language together.   A lot of these books have been on Lean and because I have read so many books on the subject, a lot of the books are ones I had read previously.

The interesting thing I am finding is that these books that I had already read are now providing completely different insights than they did the first time I read them.  This is not because the book is different or I didn’t read it thoroughly, but because I am different.  The things that I am struggling with, the problems that I am trying to solve and where I am along my journey are all different so the things I am reading and the insights they provide are all different.  Some of the best books I have read in 2014 are books that I had read one maybe two times before.

So if you are looking for a new book to read in the new year, try going back to a book you have read previously.  You might find some profound insights hidden among the pages of something you have already read.

3d Models for Web Viewing

Attending Autodesk University this week. Here is a sample of a 3d model produced for web viewing.  Needs to be viewed in Chrome for best results although they said IE and Safari should work too.

The Power of Not Knowing

I listened to an interesting podcast the other day (you can find it here).  The base idea is that sometimes the best person for the job, especially when the job requires creativity and innovation, is the person with no experience.  This is not what you typically see in the workplace.  Our approach is usually to find the person with the most experience and put them in charge of the project.

But think about a time where you were thrown in over your head and had to do something you had little or no experience doing.  How did you work?  You had to ask a lot of questions.  You had to do a lot of reading or research on YouTube to get ideas.  You had to weigh all of the options and make good decisions then test them to be sure they were right.  Wasn’t it a great feeling?  Didn’t you feel engaged and excited?

Henry Ford in his book “Today and Tomorrow” mentioned that he never wanted to hire an “expert”.  An expert is someone who already knows why things “won’t” work.  He liked to put people in positions where the person didn’t know what they were trying to do couldn’t be done.  He had more breakthroughs where the inexperienced person found a way where the “experts” couldn’t.

I see this each summer with our interns.  We bring in young bright college students (or sometimes high school) and put them on tasks that we haven’t had time to get to but could move us forward.  We point them in the right direction and give them access to resources to learn from but largely, they are on their own to figure it out.  The tasks usually involve things they have never had experience with.  It is always amazing at the end of the summer how much they have accomplished and the things that they have discovered for us.

The issue isn’t weather people are experienced or not, it really has to do with the way we learn.  It really has to do with keeping your mind open and not limiting the possibilities based on your past experiences.  Our minds tend to use heuristics or pattern matching to make the world easier to absorb.  If you start working on something and it is similar to something you’ve done before, your mind will leap to conclusions to make the task easier.  This makes the experienced person overlook things that the inexperienced person would need to explore and test.

So maybe, next time you need to tackle a project, try assigning it to someone without experience.  It will help them grow and you just might get newer and better ideas in the process.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

I was reading a book the other day and I came across this idea.   I think that I’ve heard the phrase “The tragedy of the commons” but wasn’t familiar with what it meant.

The Tragedy of the Commons is an economic theory put forth by Garret Hardin in 1968.  I think this theory applies to a lot of things in our world of business so I thought I’d share the theory and the application I have been thinking about.

In medieval Europe, herders would share a common plot of land, or The Commons.  If these herders were raising cows, each individual, acting in his own self interest, would want to increase the size of his herd to help feed his family and become more successful.  But as each herder increases his herd size, the land becomes depleted to the detriment of all.  In the end, they will even get to the point where the herds are unsustainable by “the commons” and their herds will perish.  So, since no one really owns the commons, they aren’t worried about it they way they would be if they owned the land.

Obviously this can be applied to a lot of the things around us.  The atmosphere, oceans, rivers, state parks or the kitchen area at the office are all part of “the commons”.  But I’d like to take another look at this based on how it could be applied to some of the problems around me at work.

Let’s say we talk about phones at the office.  A while ago we switched to the iPhone 4S as a standard for our employees.  At the time, they hadn’t quite released the iPhone 5 so this was the most current model.  Shortly after people got their phones, the iPhone 5 came out and since then they have just released the iPhone 6.  A current employee might be wondering when and if we are going to upgrade. They might think something like “our phones are out of date.  When are they going to upgrade my phone?”.  Well the truth is, the phones in our company are part of “the commons”.  There are people who are responsible to purchase phones, who are responsible to make sure they work right and other people who check and pay the phone bills.  But there is no one person who is responsible to review the technology and decide when things will get upgraded.  So, there is no current plan in place to make an upgrade.  Many things that frustrate people at work are probably part of “the commons”.   Sometimes I’m walking the shop floor and Chris (who runs our shop) will come up to me and show me a problem he is running into.  Now Chris might think “I told Steve about that”, but in fact, this particular problem doesn’t have an owner.  So, since there is no one specifically in the company who I can go and have them work on it, it just falls through the cracks and becomes a frustration.

Another example.  I get a call from one of my PM’s.  They are very frustrated.  They have a problem on a project and they sent an email to 5 people and no one responded.  I look and sure enough, there it is.  But the problem?  They sent it to 5 people.  Since it was addressed to all these people, I assumed someone else would handle it.  They all assumed the same.  This email is “the commons”.  Since no one personally owns it, then you can’t really expect anyone specifically to answer it.  I suggested that they should send the email to the person they thought would be best able to help them and just copy the other people.  This way it is clear on who owns that problem and who is expected to reply.

The more I look around the more I see this issue in practice.  Without specific ownership, things fall through the cracks and are not handled.  I know it is not exactly what Hardin was describing, but it helps me now see why some things are happening and a possible way to make things better.