Chiropractic School of Lean Implementation
How do you go about diagnosing sequential systemic constraints… each in their turn? Lacking a consistent “one-size-fits-all” method, you are in danger of trying to fix everything at the same time. Sure, you will expend resources, and you will probably see local improvements, but you will not see throughput increases… more STUFF will not come out of the end of your processes. In Lean Thinking, we call this one “Muda.” That is the Japanese word for “Waste.”
An excellent model for how to approach this diagnostic problem was provided to me by sequential trips to my chiropractor!
Some of you have had the opportunity, or the necessity, of visiting a chiropractor. For those of you who have, this has probably occurred multiple times. I have visited chiropractors at different times in my life and discovered that they are not all created equal. However a few years ago, I came across a chiropractor that did something completely different… and it worked. Over the course of several months, his methods gradually increased strength, stability and flexibility in my back. These are exactly the same attributes we seek to improve in your processes!
Here is the “CPI” method for improving my back. I would lie down on my back on top of my chiropractor’s drop-table. He used this device to loosen up my hips so that the forces in his next technique would actually reach my spine, instead of just losing their energy before reaching my spine.
He would go to the bottom of the table, and take a hold of one of my feet, say my left foot, between his two knees. Then I would try to relax because I knew what was coming next: he would pull my foot… really, really hard. This force would transmit up my leg, and pull at my back. The interesting part was that the lowest place in my back that was the most seized up would pop. Then he would go to my right foot and do the same thing. The first time he did this, the joint between my hips and my L5 (the lowest vertebra that sits on top of the hips) popped really hard and hurt like the Dickens… for a few seconds.
Over the next three or four visits, this joint is the one that would pop again, successively less painfully until it wasn’t too bad. After five or six visits, the joint between L4 and L5 popped! It also hurt like the Dickens!
Over the next half a dozen visits, it also hurt successively less and less. Next, L3, and then L2, and so forth all the way up to about the middle thoracic section (the middle) of my back.
It finally reached the level of my back that had hurt since I was a teenager. That joint (approximately T9), really hurt when he popped it during each visit across the next three or four weeks, generally less with each succeeding visit. Then, one day, the joint just above that one popped (Ouch) and the process continued up my back.
As the weeks wore on and my chiropractor popped my back higher and higher, my back became stronger, more flexible and more stable. I was able to last further between chiropractic visits without my back hurting. At first I had to go three times a week, and then two times a week, and then three times every two weeks, and then one time a week… my back was in fact getting stronger, more stable and more flexible.
The point of this story: ORGANIZATIONS OPERATE LIKE SPINES. Take a look at the TTZ layout. Instead of picturing this layout as three separate tiers, picture it as one straight horizontal line, starting from the left and proceeding to the right… just like you would Value Stream Map a process. Viewed this way, the boxes that comprise the TTZ look an awful lot like a spine. ALL of the TTZ boxes are required to deliver an initial concept to a final customer so everybody gets paid for it at the very end. Or alternately stated, no one gets paid for it at all… until the very end.
As you view the organization in this way, the interrelatedness of the Development Tasks on the 1st Tier, Information Management Tasks on the 2nd Tier and Execution Tasks on the 3rd Tier become much clearer!
A major component of Lean methodology, in fact the fourth major component, is the principle of “Pull.” After you arrange the value-creating steps into flow order, you try to “PULL” a little bit more end-customer-defined value through them to see where they “Pop”… where they are the weakest… where the flow breaks! In fact, the combination of “Flow” and “Pull” ought to be applied in this manner as the primary systemic diagnostic technique: Pull… fix the Flow… Pull even more… fix the Flow… Pull even more….
My chiropractor pulled physically on each foot, one at a time, so that the physical energy of that “pull” would transmit up through my leg and hips and even through the stabilized portion of my spine to “pop” the most seized-up joint nearest to my foot (the “end customer” in this case). This physical pull is analogous to the “Economic Demand Pull” of your final customers. Therefore, when you PULL greater value out of your processes, you will expose the weakest process nearest to your final customer… whether it is staffed by blue collars or white collars!
Using this relationship between Flow & Pull, you CAN focus your flow-improvement efforts on the ACTUAL, CURRENT, SYSTEMIC CONSTRAINT instead of just on the many, many local flow constraints which do not produce increases in system “Throughput” (the amount that actually finishes your process).
As you focus on improving value-creating “Flow” at each sequential systemic constraint, your processes will become steadily more flexible, more stable and stronger… just like my back. Your “Throughput” will also steadily increase… or alternately… will require fewer resources to complete. Either way, you obtain greater resources to focus on future systemic constraints.
As you attempt to pull greater value out of your processes by trying to deliver a little bit more than you have been delivering, only one department (or at maximum, two departments), that corresponds with a box on the TTZ, will yelp! They will complain very, very loudly that you are pushing them too hard. When this happens, it is time to go back to your problem-solving task on 1st Tier of TTZ and helically improve the processes, policies, metrics, or whatever else that hampers flow within their department. They are probably so mired in un-flows, backflows, missing or un-ready tools (including long setup times), and delivered-quality issues that they are not able to deliver sufficient product, service, or “Value” to their downstream customers… including their internal customers.
As you do this, process by process, and department by department, your organization will steadily become more flexible, more stable and much stronger… just like my back.
PS. The thing that looks like it needs the most immediate attention may not be the 1st thing that really needs attention. After all, I sought chiropractic attention because of pain at T9… not because of stiffness at lower joints. However, lasting treatment of pain in that joint required stabilization of lower joints… that I did not know were problematic until they were “pulled.”
This leads us to the question of what to improve first when more than one task on the TTZ “yelps” when you try to pull a little bit more! So… on to the Farmer’s School of Lean Implementation.