Clean Thinking

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Clean Thinking


One of Steve Jobs mantras is that “Simple can be harder than complex.”

“You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

This got me thinking about how many costly high tech solutions to problems are lying unused or discarded in factories or organisations because the Management have jumped straight in and over-engineered an answer without understanding what the practical issue is and not fully engaging with all the Staff on the shop floor?

I’m not sure what the answer to this is, but one of the things I love about Lean and Process Improvement is the ingenuity of Staff in coming up with no cost or low-cost solutions to problems.

A great example of this is early in my Lean career when I worked in a factory, we had a machine that would only accept a certain type of 1-tonne bag in which the raw material was contained. We had to have them repackaged at a considerable expense so that the neck of the bag would clamp and seal properly around the machine to enable loading of the material.

What we wanted to do was redesign the machine to accept the standard supplier’s bags and thus save money by using them. Note: we were a relatively small consumer of the product, so asking the supplier to provide the modified bags we needed was a costly option.

A Kaizen event was conceived and we gathered a small team of engineers and operators and set a budget, as we thought the redesign would not be cheap. However, it would still be worthwhile as the cost of repackaging the raw material was expensive. We also included a young apprentice in the team as “the experience” would be good for him.

As a team, we went to the area, as you do, to understand the current situation and after a few minutes poking about, taking photographs and measurements, the young apprentice suggested that if we moved a bracket holding the clamp up by one bolt hole, the machine would easily take the standard bags.

Engineers conferred, scratched heads and agreed that this would work – no expensive re-engineering required, just reposition the bracket and the planned 2-day improvement event resolved in 15 minutes!

Everyone, except our young apprentice, was looking for a complex engineering solution which could have cost a few thousand pounds, but the answer was there all the time – all it took was to look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes, no pre-conceived ideas and a bit of left field thinking.

For those that know Lean – this was a potentially an example of the 8th waste – Under utilising the knowledge and skills of staff who work in and around the area and not using this and their experience. More importantly, by introducing someone relatively new to the area, it removed the blinkers of traditional thinking and generated an elegantly simple answer to this seemingly costly problem.

The lesson learned here was that we could have missed this opportunity, not just by using over engineered minds and thinking, but by not also getting the team make up right. Utilising all the ideas from all the Staff involved enabled the team to get their thinking clean.


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