Friday, February 20, 2009

Mobile Marketing and Lean Enterprise

While reading Morgan & Liker (2006), I was reminded that most individuals and companies view lean as being focused on removing waste (Muda). It is really much more.  What many individuals don’t realize there are two other M’s that lean focuses on eliminating. The second M is Muri (overburden). Muri is simply problems that develop and are unique to the process when demand exceeds about 80% of the available capacity. The third M, and the focus of this article, is Mura (unevenness). Mura refers to process issues that arise when the demand is uneven and not consistent.


The other day I had the opportunity to sit with Doug Moss, CEO of Txtwire Communications, to learn more about his business of mobile marketing.  For anyone who may not know, mobile marketing is the distribution of coupons and exclusive specials via text messages sent to cellular devices.  A user texts a key word or phase to a specific number to receive the coupon(s) and is immediately enrolled in a marketing list for future offers.


At this point, you may be wondering why a lean sigma blog is discussing mobile marketing; well now the lean application and focus on elimination of Mura begins.


Moss indicated that one of their clients, an ice cream store, uses the service to distribute exclusive, time sensitive offers to increase the customer flow (demand) into their establishment during the specific “slow times”.  In this case, the business objective is not to eliminate Muda; rather they are focusing on controlling Mura. Simply put, when the establishment has staffed to a higher demand than they are experiencing, Moss’s client takes immediate and direct steps to increase (even out) customer flow into their place of business.


The point of highlighting Moss’s example is that many lean practitioners focus solely on removing the waste (Muda) and often forget about the other side of the equation that Mura leads to Muda.  Therefore, the potential to increase (or even out) demand and realize additional revenue is overlooked.


At the end of the day, the goal of lean is to increase the profitability of the business.  One way to increase the profitability of the business is to eliminate the Mura before it leads to Muda by taking action to level the demand.






Morgan, J. M. & Liker, J. K. (2006). The Toyota product development system: Integrating people, process and technology. New York: Productivity Press.



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group 

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Case For Lean In Sony’s Front Office & Fulfillment Operation

Recently, I had a Sony Bravia LCD digital color TV fail a short period of time after the manufacturer’s warranty had expired.  The failure was catastrophic in that the repair would cost over 50% of the original purchase price. I called Sony to express my dissatisfaction with the now discontinued unit and Sony agreed to replace the unit with a new model for a deeply discounted price.  Had the replacement gone smoothly, that would have been the end of the story. Unfortunately, what transpired over the replacement transaction serves to highlight a lean continuous improvement opportunity in Sony’s front office and fulfillment operation.


In order to verify the authenticity of my claim, the Sony representative asked that I remove and submit the serial number label from the defective unit.  Information retrieved from on February 14, 2009 at 9:12 AM MST indicates that my package arrived and was signed for by a Sony employee at their Fort Myers, Florida location on February 4 at 11:00 AM EST.   Now the frustration begins.


According to a Sony call center agent, the replacement order was not placed into their system until approximately 11:30 AM EST on February 10, 2009.   Assuming a generous 30 minutes for order placement, the order request sat incurring the lean waste of “waiting” for 4 business days!  While waiting for input into the Sony systems, the letters may pile up and occupy unnecessary space.  The letters are also at risk of being lost or being input out of their arrival sequence.


After being entered into their system, the order waited again until February 12, 2009 before actually being shipped.  The order had now waited another 2 plus business days prior to shipping. 


The entire process from receipt of the information until the replacement unit was shipped was over 6 business days! By my estimate, the only value added activities during this time were receiving the information, entering the order, and the pick/pack/ship of the replacement unit. Assuming 1 hour for the value added activity and 8 hours per business day, the value added activity comprises 2% of the cycle time.  The other 98% is viewed as waste!


Applying various lean tools would help identify the root cause, eliminate the waste, and install management systems to have the changes become engrained in their culture.  Consider the following ……


  • Included in Morning Market is a review of the previous day’s performance.  With the proper customer centric measures, the cycle time would be visible to the leadership.
  • Value Stream Mapping would provide a visual representation of the process including queue time.
  • A 5 Whys exercise would enable the organization to identify a root cause of the problem. 
  • A kaizen would provide for identification of an improved process.
  • Standard work would document the new and improved process.
  • Gemba walks would enable leadership to reinforce the new process and adherence to standards by visiting the workplace on a regular basis.


Does every case at Sony take this long? I don’t know, that is for Sony leadership to determine. The purpose of this post is simply to provide a real world example of waste and how lean can be used for continuous improvement purposes in non-manufacturing processes. 


In these turbulent economic times, companies must maintain a high level of customer service. Compressing cycle times on orders is just one of the ways to improve customer service. Satisfied customers are repeat customers. 


Should someone from Sony view this post and want to verify the detail presented, they can refer to case number E39586838.



Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Friday, February 13, 2009

Begin Each Day By Going To The Morning Market

These turbulent financial times require decisive and bold action.  Earlier this week, Brad Heitmann reminded me of the quote “Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat” which is Latin for “Fortunes Favor The Bold”.  I urge you to be bold and not accept the status quo.


One of my first experiences with lean involved a concept known as Morning Market.  This concept challenged my existing notions of what occurs in and how daily meetings operate. Many departments in different companies around the world begin their day with a review of the current day’s schedule and the prior day’s performance, but Morning Market takes that daily ritual and improves upon it.      


Morning Market is a daily process that makes the defects visible and creates a sense of urgency to resolve the issue.  A defect in this case, is anything that disrupts the flow of material, information, or product into the customer’s hands. A properly executed Morning Market will enable the organization to start every day by focusing on the business objectives, customer complaints, and in-process quality issues. This increased focus will enable immediate resolution to begin via corrective action tasks.


Morning Market improves the daily planning process by moving out of an office or conference room and to the operational area.  The meeting takes the cross functional team that represents all areas of the process and moves them to the location where the work is performed and where the truth is found. Additionally, because the meeting is no longer in a conference room, it has become a meeting where the participates stand throughout the discussion. Thus, the participants never become too comfortable and the meeting remains focused. This concept can be applied in all areas including factories, call centers, accounting areas, schools, hospitals, construction sites, etc…


Typically, the Morning Market meeting will take approximately 15 minutes after the concept matures in the organization.  The short meeting covers safety issues, metrics from the previous day, quality, current day schedule/forecast, action register review, and announcements.


Meeting attendees should be encouraged to bring examples of quality issues to the meeting.  The quality issues are separated into the following three classifications:


  • Customer complaints
  • In-process defects and abnormal conditions to flow
  • In-process defects related to waste


Keys to a successful Morning Market meeting must include a strong facilitator, full engagement from all areas, preparation, and follow through on assigned tasks.


I have personally seen Morning Market transform organizations from passive and tolerant of defects, to an organization that aggressively attacks and eliminates quality problems. 


Be bold and decisive. If you don’t have a lean enterprise program, start one. If you currently have a lean enterprise program, push it to the next level. Remember, “Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat”.



Copyright, The Williard Group, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Go To Gemba!

In the past few posts I have discussed several continuous improvement methodologies. However, it is human nature to return to the original, less productive process unless the new behavior is reinforced and becomes engrained in their business culture. One management system that is required to maintain the improvements that you have worked so diligently to implement is a gemba walk. 


Gemba is a Japanese term that means loosely, where the work is taking place. I was once told by my Sensei that the Japanese police refer to the scene of the crime as gemba.  A gemba walk is a management technique that has the leader walk a prescribed pattern that follows the flow through their area of responsibility.  It requires the leader to actually go where the work is accomplished to see and understand first hand the current state of their business.


The gemba route should be documented with a map on a standard work document including a listing of the items within each area that are checked.  Documenting the gemba walk is a critical component that is often over looked.  Documentation ensures consistency and allows for a transfer of knowledge when the responsible leader is not available to complete their routine. In the ideal situation the gemba walk will occur at the same time(s) every day. 


As the leader walks the prescribed route, they look for and make note of safety issues, compliance with standards, and disruptions to flow.  In addition, the leader should use the gemba walk as an opportunity to reinforce to the staff what is important to the business. When the leader notes an issue, they should ask questions to the staff, which, in turn helps them, discover for themselves why the issue needs to be addressed.


How often should a leader perform their gemba walk?  The answer is simple and varies by situation. It could be once a day, it could be twice a day, and it could be more. Leaders need to complete their gemba walk as often as is necessary to understand the current state of their business.


A gemba walk is the formalized equivalent of MBWA  (Management By Walking Around).  Many leaders walk the workplace daily as a matter of practice. A gemba walk simply formalizes and documents their daily walk.  It is irrelevant if you call the gemba walk by the Japanese term or some term you have created locally. The important issue is that the practice is formalized, documented, and occurs at the prescribed frequency.


Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Friday, February 6, 2009

Root Cause Analysis Using 5 Whys

My 4-year-old grandson was visiting recently and almost every sentence he spoke contained the word why. Why this and why that, he asked nonstop as only an inquisitive 4 year old can do.  As I patiently answered his questions, I was struck by how his constant questioning resembled the 5 Whys technique used in lean enterprise problem solving.  The 5 Whys is an extremely effective method used to getting to the root cause of the issue. 


The premise of the 5 Whys is very simple.  As the name implies, when conducting a root cause analysis you ask yourself and your team a series of 5 questions all beginning with the word why.  Each successive question builds on the previous answer.  Sounds simple.  In practice it is harder than you may think. 


To illustrate, suppose there was an issue involving tape on a packing carton coming loose.


  1. Why did the tape come loose on the packing carton?
    1. The tape was not applied with the necessary tension
  2. Why did the tape lack the necessary tension?
    1. The spring that applies the tension on the taper was loose.
  3. Why was the spring loose?
    1. The spring had been on the machine too long and had loosened due to wear.
  4. Why had the spring been on the machine to long?
    1. The spring had been on the machine to long because it was not replaced during preventive maintenance.
  5. Why was the spring not replaced as part of the preventive maintenance schedule?
    1. The preventative maintenance schedule only addressed the new model taping machines, which do not require use of a spring.


Solution: Update the preventative maintenance schedule and ensure that all items requiring preventative maintenance are scheduled.


While this sounds easy, it isn’t.  Your first several attempts will prove difficult and the tendency will be to stop before reaching the 5th Why.  I would urge you to press forward in an attempt to reach that 5th why and get to the true root cause of the issue.


Post Author: Royce Williard

copyright 2009, The Williard Group

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lean Sigma In A Service Environment

Over the past few months I have been able to observe first hand how a solid Lean Sigma program could benefit companies in the service industry.  Following are two examples.


In the first case, during a kitchen remodel in our home, the cabinet shop incorrectly measured the opening for the beverage cooler.  Unfortunately, this was not discovered until after the granite countertops had been installed. The beverage cooler was too large for the opening. The vendor was faced with several options. They could remove the granite countertop to increase the size of the opening or they could replace the beverage cooler with a unit that would fit the existing opening. They decided that replacing the beverage cooler with a new unit was the least risky and costly option available to them.  They also ordered the wrong size pantry pull out drawers on 3 separate occasions. 


This vendor eroded their entire profit margin in repeated installation trips to our home and replacing the beverage cooler at their cost, not to mention creating a dissatisfied client, due to their lack of quality and efficiency.


When the service manager was confronted with this reality, he simply dismissed the concerns by saying “some jobs go this way.”  However, according to the installer, the issue is not limited to “some” jobs.  Rather this is the norm and the majority go this way. 


Conducting a simple 5 Whys exercise involving the sales, installation, and warehouse teams would identify the root cause of many of these breakdowns.  They could then follow up with Kaizen(s) including the same sales, installation, and warehouse teams to identify the optimal process and transform this process into a standard work document.


In the second situation, I had the misfortune of cracking my windshield to the point it needed to be replaced.  After entering my policy number into my insurance company’s phone system “in order to service me better”, I had the privilege of repeating this number and many other bits of information every time the agent changed screens in their computer system.  I provided my home address, contact numbers, etc….  at least twice and in some cases 3 times during the course of a single call.


The waste the company incurred was nothing short of incredible. By my estimate no more than 40% of the call was value added, the remaining 60% was non-valued waste.


Both of these companies could remove untold amounts of non-value add waste by simply implementing a lean enterprise program.  Lean is not only for manufacturing anymore.


Post Author: Royce Williard


Copyright 2009 The Williard Group