Thursday, September 13, 2012

September Meeting

We had a great presentation on Lean Design from Douglas Childs of TAYLOR this morning. He has been kind enough to allow us to post the slides from his presentation; you may find them here.

James McKenzie and Eric Davis of Swinerton generously hosted the presentation in their well-equipped conference room with stunning views!

And here are a summary and the supplemental notes I promised:

Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Annalise Chikhale, Doug Childs, Eric Davis, Mario Guttman, Will Henderson, Damon Hernandez, Bruce Madsen, Nancy McClure, Karen Thomas, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima, Andrew Wolfram

Step 1 - Identify value
Doug started his presentation with demonstrating the first step of Lean processes, by asking the goals of his customers (each person present), and identifying the value they hoped to derive from attending the meeting.

He then explained the premise of What Lean Is and Isn't. Lean originated in Japan by Toyota as an approach to manufacturing excellence, but can be advantageously applied to any kind of process. It is commonly equated with miscellaneous tools such as Last Planner, A3, Six Sigma, Value Stream Mapping and the construction industry specific of IPD. None of these define Lean, but rather can be used to facilitate Lean processes.

Lean is a way of thinking and management targeted at maximizing value to a customer through continually improving processes.

2. Map the Value Stream
After identifying the value as defined by the customer (whosever needs are being addressed by a process, whether a client, building department, boss, etc,), the second step is to map the value stream, which is that set of all actions required to bring a product or process from concept to finished product. The purpose is to analyze the value of each step in the process, and to eliminate all steps which don't add value as defined by the customer. In Lean terminology, this step addresses the concept of the Japanese word muda, or superfluousness, a waste of time and effort.

3. Create Flow
In order to demonstrate the concept of flow, Doug had us do an exercise using the example of inventorying a bag of miscellaneous items.
We split into smaller groups with the purpose of each group individually taking inventory, and seeing how long it took for all groups to complete their separate inventories. The first method was for each group to execute a large chunk of work - to inventory all the objects - and then pass on the objects to the next group, who then did all of their work, and so forth. This resulted in each group having a short period of activity, and long periods of waiting for other groups to execute their tasks. We then tried a process of the first group inventorying a small number of objects and then passing them on to the next group so they could get started while the first group proceeded with successive small sets of objects, passing them on in small chunks. This method resulted in a much more efficient ratio of waiting time to active time, and a much shorter overall time.

4. Establish Pull
The first method was an example of traditional "push" scheduling, wherein a start date is established and each step is executed consecutively one after another. The second method emulated the Lean approach of "pull" scheduling, in which the overall scheduling goal is identified and then the schedule is developed backward to determine what smaller chunks of information are needed when to meet that goal, keeping all team members working concurrently as efficiently as possible. Doug described a common method of pull planning in which a team gathers in one room and collaboratively develops the schedule using color-coded post-its on the wall for each task in a process, identifying its duration, what's needed from upstream actors to perform the task, and constraints.

5. Seek Perfection
The last principle of Lean is the endeavor to continually improve the process, to strive for perfection - meaning the complete elimination of all activities that don't provide value for the customer. It's an ongoing cycle described as PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) which requires transparency and feedback from all, especially customers of the process. One tool to accomplish this is a "plus-delta" check after completion of a process, to revisit the original goals and evaluate what was done well (plus) vs. what could be done better (delta), and to use that input to improve the process next time. Post-occupancy evaluation, anyone?

Doug then addressed some of the objections that are expressed in regard to Lean: that it's just a fad, it's not necessary, there's no time for it, effort should be directed at producing results rather than improving the process, and there's no return on the effort—in large part a lack of understanding and fear of the unknown. Doug addressed those concerns by identifying some of the key differences of Traditional vs. Lean Production and Management—a focus on results vs. customer value, an individual vs. team approach, free-form vs. defined methods, and carrot and stick vs. managed expectations, building consensus and trust—and the resulting benefits:
  • for the customer: greater value—faster, lower cost, better quality
  • for the designer: happier clients, fewer fire drills and happier staff, and greater profit
  • for staff: less stress, greater job satisfaction, happier work environment
    Dave Bleiman raised some issues that hinder implementation of Lean. Often outside entities disrupt the process, such as OSHPD or Building Department review; or the entire hierarchy of a team is not on board with the concept; or time-engrained habits resurface at crunch time. He postulates that Lean is easier to implement on a firm basis rather than a project basis. For successful implementation, buy-in and motivation must occur from both the top down and the bottom up.

    Doug next reviewed one of the trademark tools of Lean processes, the A3. It's so-called because it uses a single page of paper of Japanese size A3, roughly equivalent to 11x17. It's used to track an issue and the Lean process approach to it. It's composed of a statement and explanation of the issue, analysis—ask why 5 times!—and decision on how to resolve the issue, the specific steps necessary to achieve that resolution, and an evaluation of whether the issue is resolved and how well.

    To complete Doug's presentation and demonstration of Lean principals, he solicited plus/delta feedback from everyone in the room on his presentation. Everyone's goals seem to have been met, and we all agreed that Doug did a very nice job of presenting the material. We also agreed that more discussion—which was curtailed during the presentation due to time constraints—would have been helpful.

    Those of us who could afford the time stayed on to continue the conversation. Nancy pondered the question of how to implement Lean. Marla pointed out that Lean prescribes a way of thinking that's not dependent upon specific tools or even language, and that a leader could overcome potential resistance to the "Lean" brand by avoiding the catch phrases.

    Nancy and Dave think that stress breaks down the Lean process, which Marla points out is ironic as the process is intended to relieve stress. Firmly-ingrained dysfunctional behaviors burden implementation of any kind; the iterative cycle of continuous improvement should eventually overcome that burden.

    Dave stated that a critical aspect of Lean is learning how to make proper requests and realistic promises. We all agreed that communication is the most important thing, not the formal tools and terminology of Lean. As Karen noted, it's the job of a project manager to set the tone and create a Lean environment starting at the project kick-off meeting. Dave thinks that it's the project managers who are most resistant to process change. Upper management hears all the benefits and gets on-board with the program but don't directly implement it; and junior staff have no established processes to conflict with the change. Dan thinks one difficulty is the difference between cash flow and profit vs. value creation. It's necessary to figure out how to spread risk across the entire firm rather than burdening a particular project. Damon states there's often interest initially, but when the rubber hits the road, it's pushed off to down the road, on to the next project.

    There was a little discussion at the end on some other topics. Eric says that gaming will change our industry, because they're solving the problem of processing huge amounts of data. Our industry just doesn't have an income stream sufficient to tackle it. Dan says game designers reduce polygons to a bare minimum, which is not feasible for AEC. When he can't load an entire model, Damon loads just what's necessary. Dan notes that elements to be loaded can be selected based on location within the building or distance from the viewer.

    Damon championed Twitter; he's discovered that using it to post complaints is an extremely effective method for getting a response from a company—they really don't want problems out there, searchable, in cyberspace.

    Dave has sworn off multi-tasking, he thinks it just doesn't work. He likes using his iPad because then he can do only one thing at a time.

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