Archive for the ‘lean’ Category

Big in Japan

Monday, May 18, 2009

Last Wednesday I’ve attended one of Thoughtworks Quarterly Technology Briefings in Toronto, Ontario. The presentation was about an introduction to Lean concepts and how they can apply in IT world. So, concepts like avoid waste, practice continuous improvement, etc. Most of the Lean ideas come from Taiichi Ohno and William Deming between the 50’s and the 80’s.

I’ve put here a scan of the mind maps that I’ve drawn live during the presentation, followed by some of the key ideas highlighted there. Take the maps as they are, probably imprecise and rough, very personal (they are indeed related to my mind and my experience during the presentation), but I hope that they can communicate the essence of the presentation. I think I’ll definitely consider attending future events like this, it was pretty good (and breakfast was great! ).

Scan of mind maps on index cards

Scan of mind maps on index cards

The event has been recorded by infoQ guys, so I expect to see its video live on sooner or later.

In the end the presentation has been articulated in 3 parts:

  1. First of all a bit of history about Lean, highlighting differences between mass-production approaches like Fordism (influenced by the infamous Taylor) and quality-oriented approaches like the Toyota Production System (Taiichi Ohno and William Deming are the main influences)
    • In a tayloristic world, workers are stupid and cheap, don’t care about things and be good only at follow instructions (if disciplined). Only the managers know better.
    • Deming’s approach is totally different, workers are empowered and involved in all aspects of production. I can see a lot of influence from Drucker as well: the modern worker outside of Mac jobs is definitely a knowledge worker even if he/she works in a manufacturing plant. I’d say that Drucker and Deming are part of the same ecosystem.
    • Of course Ford is doomed (is it?) and Toyota, while in trouble, seems to have a much better perspective and it’s expected to recover much faster once the economy starts to grow again.
      • The underlying, oversimplified message is: “This is all because of Lean”
  2. Then they did an introduction of Lean concepts. Some key ideas:
    • Kaizen is the continuous improvement component, delivered in small increments, focusing on the worst problem first
    • Lean systems are Pull systems, that is systems in which inventory is minimized not only as a whole, but also locally ==> nothing is produced unless required
    • Wastes in all shapes and forms are continuously removed
    • There’s a high degree of autonomation (Jidoka), that is the capability to automatically detect defects such that the line can be stopped and the workers can work on solving the problem (permanently)
    • There are 7+1 types of wastes
      1. Overproduction
      2. Waiting
      3. Unnecessary Trasportation
      4. Over-Processing
      5. Excess Inventory
      6. Unnecessary Movement
      7. Defects
      8. Unused Employee Creativity
    • A system of problem solving techniques like “go & see for yourself”, “ask WHY 5 times”, etc.
    • Anecdote: how many times on average the line is stopped at Toyota? 27000 times a day ==> it may seem counterproductive, but the more the line is stopped, the better the quality, the greater the output (of course after an initial decrease in productivity ==> this should tell us something, shouldn’t it?!? )
  3. The last part was focused on transposing these ideas in the IT/sw dev world. I think that in the XP community we have already embraced these ideas and we take them for granted, more or less, but it was interesting nevertheless to see them applied in practice, rooting them into Lean concepts:
    • For example, a ceremonious waterfall-ish process has shown a Cycle Time Efficiency of 53%, where CTE is equal to the Total Value-Added Time / Cumulative Elapsed Time
      • By reducing handoffs, separate validation phases and anticipating testing activities CTE has been brought up to 78%
    • In the sw dev world:
      • Overproduction = Extra Features
      • Over-Processing = Gold Plating
      • Excess Inventory = Partially Completed Work

Of course Lean concepts and Agile/XP go hand in hand. For example, what about the relationship between stopping the line and fixing the build when is broken? A continuous build system is an example of autonomation.

Lots of good quotes and book recommendations in the presentation. I’ve found an older version very close to the one that I have seen. It’s available here. Let’s see if Thoughtworks will publish the final version soon.



Lean Manufacturing in Italy

Thursday, December 1, 2005

A few days ago I have spoken with the Industrial Director of an important manufacturing multinational company based in Italy. To give you an idea, they have several factories in Italy and a few in other countries, typically in the developing world. They are clearly a worldwide leader in their business.

He’s a friend of mine, so the conversation was without any limitation and absolutely confidential. Of course, I cannot disclouse his name, nor company’s one.

He is responsible for all factories production. He was helding a similar position at a local level in a much bigger US multinational company, a very very well known one, where he had the opportunity to see lean manufacturing in practice. Before that, he had just studied about lean, but nothing beyond that.

I was asking him: “How much is lean adopted in Italy?”
“Not that much”, he said. “There are managers that don’t know about it, even if the majority probably knows it. But the problem is that in reality it is not put in practice. There are companies that talk about lean concepts, but they are keeping it only at the surface.”
Me: “Does it mean that almost all manufacturing companies are still sticking to Fordism and Taylorism? Or better, are they imitating Taylorism?”
Him: “Yes, sort of. If you are lucky you find somebody who has read something about lean, but not more. To give you an example, I’m looking for 2 Quality Managers for 2 factories, one here in Italy and the other one in [CLASSIFIED]: I’m not able to find anybody with practical experience in lean manufacturing. Only talking about it, trying to picture themselves in good shapes because they have read a couple of books. By the way the position is lucrative, the role is ambitous, but that doesn’t help either!”

This situation is pretty common in Italy. There are many sectors where we are simply following many steps back behind other leading nations. This is sad, because there are capable people, willing to try new things, but not enough entrepreneurs or venture capitalists willing to take some risks. In theory we are prepared. In practice we are sleeping. We don’t risk that much, but we are constantly declining away. There’s an atmosphere that reminds me the fall of an empire, but without any imperial heritage. Well, not recent anyway.