IBM and lean manufacturing????????

Lean is becoming universal and its application reach very wide audience. It reaches mass scale manufacturers to small make to order manufacturers. Huge services to smaller offices. Giants in today’s world are using lean to gain advantage over each other just like Toyota did in the automobile manufacturing industry. Google alerts sent me an important news on the relationship IBM has with lean manufacturing. The company IBM requires no introduction. It is a giant. Still they look at lean manufacturing as a tool where they can reach competitive advantage over their competitors. This is a good example on how popular lean is becoming.

But the when I went through the story, I was wondering “Is this really lean”. Lean manufacturing improves process efficiencies and will enable manufacturer to get more with the same amount of resources. For an example if your work force of hundred people manages to produce 500 pieces of products within the working day, lean will make it possible to manufacturer 800 a day with the sam number of people.

But is it same to say now we can produce the same amount of 500 products with 63 people. So what about the remaining 37 people. What are they going to do? Are they going to loose their jobs? I found IBM is calculating the lean benefits in the second category, as a strategy to remove some employees from their facilities. In this article if you look at the comments made, it is apparent that even some of the people think they are loosing their jobs due to lean.

This is not lean really wants. People are at the center of lean manufacturing. Nothing is possible without people. Lean is not a downsizing strategy, but an improvement strategy. Read this post and specially the comments made by people. What do you think? Is this really lean? Leave your comment here.

Lean thinkers and negative thinkers

Lean is way of life. Lean is about thinking in lean lines and living that thinking. Lean thinkers always look at the opportunities to improve the current system. They will challenge anything if they feel it does not add value to the end product or the service. Great, isn’t it?

So lean thinkers are very positive and have the “can do” mindset. But all the people are not positive thinkers. This is not an exception in an organization. Some will feel some things as wastes and some people see the same things as opportunities to improve. We generally ignore or criticize these negative thoughts and do not want to listen to them. But for me negative thinkers are as important as positive thinkers. They are not a waste in the organizational setting. In fact they are an asset to any organization.

Negative thinkers are good in finding the possibilities for problems. They will find out any possibilities for failures in a system within minutes. This characteristic alone is a very important to have in designing a successful system like lean. People who think positively generally do not see the problems. But in practicality it is not enough to have only positive thoughts to create a successful system. All the possibilities must be analyzed and necessary actions must be taken to prevent them. Here negative thinkers have a very important role to play.

Lean is all about thinking, planning and executing. Most of the ideas will be in drawing board for most of the time of the project cycle. It will be discussed and planned properly before even thinking about implementing. So the implementation will be well planned and smooth and has a very high chance of failure.

Positive people are good. They make the things happen. But negative people are as important. They will make things not fail.

Fool proofing in design (Pokayoke in design)

I love computers and technology. Not only because they are very close to me, but because I find them interesting. I like designs of computers and their usability. I always quote computers as very fool proofed designs. We can not plug one cable in some other socket. But I doubt this is applicable to every computer peripheral, at least I found a thumb drive which is exception for the rule

Compare two thumb drives (data travelers) on the image. What is the fool proofed design?

What do you want to keep with you? Is that the clip or the data storage part of the thumb drive?

Lean concepts and software development – Example from Yahoo! Mail

I have been using Yahoo! Mail for last four to five years. I first started using it when they offered 4 MB of storage. It grew to few hundreds MB and then to 1GB and now they provide unlimited storage. Not only the storage impressed me their user friendly interface and ability to read RSS easily and closer look to MS Outlook, possibility to synchronize are features I really enjoy. This is a great example to show how fast the internet and e-commerce is expanding. But this is not why I am making this note on my blog today.

When yahoo mail launched its new Beta test you might have found it loaded very slowly and took long time before we can do anything. Later it was fixed and on their blog they share how. I think this is an application of lean thinking (whether they knew it or not) in software development.

According the blog initially yahoo mail tried loading every feature when it is launched on the browser. So it had to take lot of time in loading. But later they have broken down the loading in to small components and then they load one by one and some on demand. This reduces the user waiting time since they see what they want to see at the beginning. Some features are loaded only they are requested. So time and resources are not wasted on loading features which are not used frequently. This made user experience much better since users started to see what they wanted faster.

Isn’t this thinking pattern goes parallel with lean way of thinking? Lean suggest to process in small batches or ideally a piece at once. And process only when they are required to be done. The net effect will be less utilization of resources, faster and flexible system. Yahoo! Mail got it correct very soon and we the users are really benefiting from that.

Lean manufacturing and teams

Team work is a popular word these days. Most of the organizations have formally formed teams to fulfill its tasks. When it comes to lean manufacturing lean and team has a very close relationship. Success of lean implementation directly relies on its teams and their effectiveness. In simple terms No team means No lean.

Building an effective team is not an easy task. It involves lots of hard work. Managing the change, training the members of the team and creating the culture of team work are not easy tasks. People are the most important resource of any organization. In this exercise of team building every organization must make sure that they do not de motivate their employees.

Do we have an alternative to team building? No is my answer. But certainly we can make the process of team building simpler. There are informal teams in every organization. They actually are very powerful in many aspects. Most often these informal teams or clicks consist of people from various departments of the organization. People in these teams have many common interests and sometimes close personal relationships as well. All these are attributes of good teams. But unfortunately these informal teams might not be useful in achieving organizational objectives. Sometimes these teams might have a negative effect on your organization. So what to do with these teams?

Simplest and best way to build effective teams is to change the objectives of these informal teams and to align them to the organizational goals. This is not easy and will not succeed every time. But if worked out these teams will perform much better than a conventionally team. Most of the traditional managers are not comfortable with these informal teams. They focus on breaking these teams down and create new teams. But in most of the organizations these informal teams are much more powerful than formally created teams. So why not just rail them to get to the destination organization wants. They will perform much better than a newly buildup teams. Lean thinkers can use these best in the transformation of a conventional organization to a lean organization. Team building is an art every lean manufacturer must learn.