Shikumi: System Based Lean Transformation 2

Systems thinking

Thinking about systems?

Every once in a while, I see lean ideas that seem to come at just the right time. I have been preaching about the importance of a systems approach to successful lean implementations for years and found an article that gives an interesting take on that vision.

From the article: ” Shikumi signifies a system; more specifically a holistic system, composed of elements and aspects. Shikumi materializes certain underlying principles through the system’s tangible and detailed policies, methods, rules and standards. According to Frederick Stimson Harriman on LinkedIn’s “TPS Principles and Practice” group, Shikumi means setting up things so that they will react in a desired way in certain circumstances. This also makes it into a more organic system; a nervous or self-regulating system, which Toyota’s famed kanban system is also sometimes referred to. Shikumi-zukuri refers the creation of such a system.”

Here is the link to the rest of the article:

For any of my fellow lean practitioners, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Mister Mac

Are you “Value Added”? Reply

In the “lean” world, a lot of time is spent in determining which of your processes are “Value Added”, “Non-Value Added but Necessary” or “Non-Value Added”. There are a lot of definitions for these phrases depending on which consultant is trying to sell a new book this week. I try to keep my definitions pretty simple.

VA  versus NVA

Value added is something that people are willing to pay for.

If a red wagon is important to my image as a red wagon consumer, I will probably be willing to pay a higher premium if it happens to cost more because of the paint or availability. Not having that red wagon would mean that my perception of need has not been met and I will probably continue to be less than satisfied. Frankly, having a yellow wagon back in the day was kind of dangerous where I grew up. Don’t even get me started on pink.

radio flyer

Value added may also mean the addition of something else which improves the performance of my purchase. As you can imagine, having large wheels in the back and a more ergonomically dynamic handle will ease my work. Both parts are more expensive than the stock model, but I value my long term health care issues (bad back and so on) and I also want to get the job done quicker and more effectively. Time is money after all. So I am again willing to pay a premium in order to achieve these needs and desires.

Assembly line

In the wagon factory, there are steps that must be completed which add value in and of themselves.

As an educated consumer, I understand that there will need to be some machines and manpower to operate them. I hope that the wagon maker has been doing his or her best to minimize those activities which should be reflected in my price. I had a Radio Flyer as a boy and it was sturdy, able to haul pretty large sizes and weights, and the paint looked nice.


There were other wagons of course. Some were cheaper. Some had wheels that were not so decorative. Some rusted out well before their time. But it was well known that the Flyer could be left out overnight (even in the rain) and be ready for work again the next day. I expected my parents to understand all of this as I left my Christmas suggestion list at their breakfast plates and in most cases I was not disappointed. I had very smart parents and I believe that they were very aware of the value of value added activity.


Santa spoiler alert: if you are reading this blog with your favorite child at your knee, you may want to have them go to the other room now and watch Sponge Bob Square pants to distract them. No use ruining Christmas for everyone…

What I was not aware of at that age was the idea that there were other costs in making the wagons that are considered non-value added (necessary or not). Frankly, it was none of my concern. If the Sears Toy catalogue advertised a Deluxe Radio Flyer with white wall tires and an elongated pulling arm at a certain price, I really had no concern at all about what additional costs may be involved. Frankly, I held onto the notion that Santa and the elves were responsible for the entire package and strongly believed some sort of magic was involved. (What is frightening to me today is that some plant managers I have worked with still believe in the “magic” part).

What other costs?

Transport. Without a magical sleigh to deliver the products with no damage or other quality issues, some one has to move the raw materials to the assembly point and then all the other activities involved in a cell or assembly line. The parts need to be inventoried, accounted for financially, moved between work stations, inspected, re-inspected, and on and on. To care for the staff, we probably do the assembly in a factory somewhere which depending on the climate may need heat or AC (for the machines and product preparation of course). I am sure that Santa’s workshop had to have some kind of expenses even if for no other reason to deal with the Reindeer poop.

The trick in cutting costs:

is understanding which of those non-value added activities you can reduce or live without altogether without sacrificing quality, cost, deliver, safety and customer expectations. That’s where value stream mapping can be a big help. I will not go into more details now, but I can promise you that as material costs climb, energy cost continue to rise, and labor/support become more expensive, your company had better be looking at where your opportunities are right now and every day.

You need to educate and train your workforce to be passionate about finding the low hanging fruit in your workplace now and the harder stuff long term. You can be assured that your competitors will be doing that or finding more “creative” ways to out play you in the market you live in (i.e. Slave labor, currency manipulation, government subsidies, hiding illegal or banned material in the products and on and on). Wait, don’t we have treaties??? Oh never mind.


It brings us to the question in the title. Are you value added?

Do you bring something to the table every day to make sure your customer is getting the best bang for their buck? Do you read new books on the latest trends? Do you challenge yourself and your workforce to do everything they can to overcome issues in a systemic way? Do you even had a formal problem solving methodology and is it routinely used?

As an adult, I still cling to my fantasies about Santa’s workshop. The main difference now is that when I imagine it, I see shadow boards for tools, everything is placed in such a way to achieve maximum flow, the workforce is dedicated and inspired to do the best they can every day to achieve continuous improvement and yes, Reindeer really do fly. I still haven’t figured out what to do with the reindeer poop though.


Ho Ho Ho

Mister Mac

I was trying to do a value stream map of the current legislative leadership and the administrative function. For the life of me I am having a great deal of trouble finding very much that is Value Added. Especially on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Sorry, Couldn’t help myself.

If you want jobs, quit b!tching and join the 21st century 4

The name of this blog is the lean submariner. Most of the stories I write are based on leadership and submarines because those are my passions. But I am afraid for my country. Without embracing new strategies and new methods, we will lose the rest of our manufacturing capability at the very time we may need it. The part about history you must remember is that our strength in wars past has been our manufacturing capability to overcome our enemies.  Once you have lost the capacity to produce what is needed, you become a servant to those who have not. Lean Manufacturing is a key and critical component to return us to the fore front.

What is Lean Manufacturing/Lean Production?

Lean techniques are the systematic identification and elimination of waste (80%), and the implementation of the concepts of continuous flow and customer pull. The benefits that are often achieved using lean production systems are 50% lower production costs, 50% less personnel on existing processes which allows for better reallocation in new product lines or services, 50% less time to field new products, higher quality, higher profitability, higher system flexibility, and more… However, by continually focusing on waste reduction, there are very few limits to the benefits that can be achieved.

Five general areas drive lean manufacturing/production: cost, quality, delivery, safety, and morale. Just as mass production was recognized as the principle production system of the 20th century, lean production is viewed as the key success production system of the 21st century.

What is the Lean Enterprise?

The ‘Lean Enterprise’ encompasses the entire production system, beginning with the customer, and includes the product sales outlet, the final assembler, product design, and all tiers of the supply chain (to include raw material mining and processing). Any truly ‘lean’ system is highly dependent on the demands of its customers and the reliability of its suppliers. No implementation of lean manufacturing can reach its full potential without including the entire ‘enterprise’ in its planning.

What are the elements of Lean Manufacturing?

The basic elements of are waste elimination, continuous one-piece workflow, and customer pull. When these elements are focused in the areas of cost, quality, and delivery, this forms the basis for an effective lean production system.

Key Lean Definitions

Value – From the perspective of the customer, those aspects or features of our products they are willing to pay for.

Value-added – Those production steps that transform raw materials directly into the features for which the customer assigns value.

Non-Value Added – Anything you do that the customer is not willing to pay for (MOre commonly called “waste”

5 Why’s – a simple technique, used to reveal the ‘root cause'(as opposed to symptoms) of a problem. The technique asks ‘why’ the symptom
occurred, ‘why’ the situation which allowed the symptom exists, and so on, until the root cause is finally discovered. Eliminating the root cause prevents the symptom from ever occurring again. If it does occur, the root cause was not properly addressed.

HINT – if your ‘5 Why’ exercise always seems to be pointing to ‘operator error’ as the root cause, you are probably going down the wrong path. Operators only do what our production systems allow them to do, so the root cause is in our systems, not our workers.

In this ever competitive world, the question is, can America compete any more?

The answer is not only we can, but we must. We truly invented modern manufacturing and have watched it steadily erode away because of our own selfishness and divisions. Management and labor both have their own share of the blame. If we are ever going to get out of the economic mess we are in now, it will require a true sense of partnership.

The days of outlandish demands on either side are over. Standing on a platform and calling your fellow stakeholders names will only ensure two things: your voice will eventually be gone and so will the business you depend upon to make your living. Class warfare has never worked and never will. It weakens us as a society and allows our enemies to take the lead over us. Any leaders who promote this warfare are not leaders at all.

Lean manufacturing requires partnership between all of the participants. It is the only way to carve the fat out of the business processes we have now and gain the ultimate reward: a return to world-class leadership and innovation. We either compete or we will end up being nothing more than sellers and buyers of other people’s goods in a greatly reduced society.

Mister Mac

Torpedo in the water! Reply

“Conn sonar, Torpedo in the water bearing Mark 140 degrees”

Conn Aye, Chief of the Watch, sound battle stations, Diving Officer Commence Emergency Evasion Maneuvers”

“Conn sonar, the weapon has acquisition, estimated time to impact is twenty seconds”

“Diving Officer, emergency deep”

SSN 612

Anyone who has ever watched “Hunt for Red October” (and I know most of you have) has had some idea of the tension that passes through a control room (and the ship) as a submarine responds to this particular event.

I was very fortunate that in all my years, I never had an actual attack, but be assured that we drilled for them pretty regularly. The idea was to practice all of the skills needed to survive a life threatening event that would make a quick end to the submarine and all who rode in her. There is nothing more time-stopping than when this is done on a mid-watch when everybody is settled into a rather boring routine. Frankly, I think it’s the best time to drill but I say that from a position of being retired.

If you think about the balance of communication and actions in this scenario, you can understand why I often say that submarining and lean are similar in their success driven actions. The right communications and the right actions at the right time are essential in survival. Having anything out of sequence in a submarine could prove instantly catastrophic, The time line might be longer for a lean event, but the general end outcome could be pretty significant.

The first event that happens is identifying the problem (Sonar). They need to accurately describe the problem to the Conning Officer so that he (or she) can then decide the most immediate response to the newly identified problem. The Officer of the Deck then relays his reaction/decision to the Diving Officer and his team. In another part of the ship, the engineers are also responding to the change in circumstances based on communications and previously trained reactions.

All the while, other support communications are pouring back into the Officer of the Deck’s station (feedback loop). He (or she) adjusts their next actions based on the immediate observations from the evasive activities that are underway. The end goal is to live to fight another day.

I have worked in a number of factories where this type of communication has made a difference in helping them to meet their Key Performance Actions. The proper flow of information is absolutely vital in any organization where work flow crosses physical and information related barriers. If the receiving group is not aware of an immediate need for a particular component, waste is driven into the process (waiting or in some cases inventory piling up in the wrong place).

If the workers see problems but know that their team is not empowered to address them, they are reliant on middle managers to solve them. If the middle managers are not in a position to “see” the problem or are not capable of communicating within their system, the interactions will slow down the process and create pockets of inventory and more waiting. The results will be decreased levels in your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and added cost to making your product or delivering your service.

Submariners practice the “what if” scenarios all the time in order to be able to respond to things that may occur. I am sorry to say that almost no modern factory I have been in will allow itself to be proactive enough to even approach this idea. Instead, most that are not lean merely react and force their people to do Non Value Added work to contain and overcome the problem.

Better communications will help teams to react when the unexpected occurs. Understanding why the unexpected occurs and being proactive about setting coutermeasures in place will help to shorten the gap between the event and return to normal.

Prepare to Dive, Prepare to Dive 3

“Chief of the Watch, verify boat is ready to submerge”

“Aye aye sir … Straight Board”

“Very well Chief, Diving officer, Submerge the ship”

“Aye Aye sir, Chief of the Watch, sound two blasts of the
diving alarm and open all main vents”

“On the 1MC… Dive Dive”

The boat slides beneath the waves and begins a typical submarine
patrol. For over a hundred years, US Navy submarines have been sailing the
oceans of the world. My brief history as a submariner encompassed over twenty
years on five different boats. My career since then has mainly focused on the
world of manufacturing as a lean manager, consultant and change agent. Several
years ago, I started noticing the relationship between what makes lean such a
powerful tool and what makee submarines work so well.

As I learned more and more about lean principles over the past
fifteen years (based on the Toyota Production System) I realized that our
submarine fleet had adopted every single principle and tool over the past 100

In the coming days and months, I will share some of those thoughts
and ideas.

What does it take for an organization to be successful at

What lessons can be learned from submarines that can help someone
on a lean journey to overcome the obstacles associated with change?

Why is execution and commitment such a huge part of a lean

What are the barriers to success?

My experiences in business and industry are the source of many
hard learned lessons. My hope is that some of that experience can help others
to navigate through the three main phases that make up a lean journey:

Implementation, Integration, and Innovation

Over the coming months, I will share some sea stories, some shore stories, and some lessons from a combined total of almost forty years of lean experience. I will welcome feedback and hope that we can learn something together.

Oh, yeah, Helmsman, ring up all ahead full, make your depth 150 Feet Steady on Course 020