Monday, September 23, 2013

Lean Journey 1: Defining Value, Eliminating Muda

Day one of the Lean Journey.

I was tempted to begin writing a history of "Lean" thinking, but It's been done better by others, and in the interest of avoiding "muda" (oh, I didn't mention we'd also be learning some Japanese along the way too) I'll just give some recommended reading as we go.

So I'll be taking a Lean Journey through my house, looking for ways to build habits that both improve my quality of life at home, keep things cleaner and reduce the amount of time I have to spend thinking or worrying about chores.

When you start a lean journey, you can start on a micro or macro scale. Since we've got a lot of different things moving through the house, and I'm the customer, operator, and co-manager of the department, We'll start from a macro scale. Either way you go the lean journey must take both sides of of the micro macro coin into account.

Lean at a macro scale deals in "Value Streams." A value stream takes some input and turns it into a more valuable output. As we begin, I'll be looking at laundry as my first value stream. My value statement (since I'm the customer too) is that I want "clean, pressed clothes that are easy to find and get to, and a neat dirty clothes inventory."

Japanese Word of the Day: 無駄 (Muda): Waste, Futility, Uselessness

The whole Lean Journey starts with two concepts: Value and Muda. Value is what I want, Muda is the crazy messed up way I get there. Some companies (like me) have trouble meeting their statement of value, which is another problem, but the "least waste way" is almost always the best way to get consistent quality. So let's start there and handle quality control later.

Muda takes many different forms, but almost all of them are covered by the acronym: TIM WOOD
7 Wastes TIMWOOD

Waste in the Laundry Value Stream.
  • Transportation: I have to take my clothes up and down the basement stairs every time.
  • Inventory: I don't have holding costs associated with my clothes, but having an inventory of dirty clothes in my room isn't helping anybody
  • Motion: Running up and down the stairs to start the washer, load, unload etc. I'm not moving anything but myself so it's motion waste. Also bending way over to unload the dryer, or climbing over my bed to get into my closet to load it.
  • Waiting: waiting for machines to finish, clothes waiting in the washer for me to move them to the dryer
  • Over-production: One that isn't there, I can't produce too many clean clothes from my dirty ones.
  • Over processing: Washing things too often (jeans), folding underwear, matching socks
  • Defects/Rework: Sending things through the dryer again because they are wrinkled.
It's important to note, that while some wastes can't be removed, or are impractical to remove (the plumbing for the laundry is downstairs), they should still be noted. I can't move the dryer upstairs, but I could lift it up on some sturdy blocks to eliminate some of the bending to get into it. I wouldn't have thought of that unless I was trying to think of everything.

In our next episode I'll be introducing value stream mapping and going to "gemba"!

A Little Lean Journey

By now you've all gotten a pretty good chance to read a lot of my creative work, but now, as an exercise to keep myself sharp as I drift further and further from school I'd like to take some time to explore my other passion. The one that I spent 5 years in school studying. Industrial Engineering.

Now, if you've read my International Contest speech you've seen that I've said pretty clearly that I don't think like an engineer. This should clarify that statement a little, and hopefully teach you all something about what I plan to do with my life. (Unfortunately, I don't have the writing chops to do it for a living just yet.)

I'm going to endeavor to make this as entertaining as possible (what good is a teaching tool if your students can't get through it?) but at the end of the day this is an educational journey, and it's primarily for my own edification (although if an employer happens to be looking at this, all the better.) If' it's not your cup of tea, skip to some of the more creative posts. Otherwise, let's take a little lean journey together.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Power to create
is stifled by consumption.
Flow only one way.

Through you, anything
unique and exclusively.
The mold was broken.

Let your voice be heard
create with the spoken word
“let there be...” it is.

It is and will be.
Taking its’ form from the void
in only one way.

Our voices and hands:
Creators in the image
of The Infinite.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Toastmasters Contest Update!

Folks have been asking for a video of my contest speech, here it is! EDIT: Snagged Second place at the Devision, and Third at the District. What a wild ride!

Also if you're interested in the text of how the speech might have gone, you can have that too. It'll get some tweaks (and much more practice) between here and the District contest. Once I figure out how far I get to take this speech, I'll fill in a lot more of the details around how it came to be, as well as the thoughts that went into it. For now, this is all the peeks behind the curtain that you get.

Hidden Genius

I was once told that I am a lazy writer. Imagine yourself in 7th grade. You are 13 years old. You are on the burgeoning precipice that is puberty. You have dreams, you have plans, and you are pre-eminently vulnerable. There you are 13 year old, seventh grade, you are told by your english teacher in front of your entire english class “you are a lazy writer,” a single grade on a single assignment and an entire part of your mind has been cast off as worthless. Fast forward 5 years and you're graduating, convinced that writing isn't worth the hassle, with your good grades in math and science you are convinced you are an engineer. Fast forward another five years and here I am finishing engineering school, convinced that I am not an engineer because; what happened when I got engineering school; what I discovered, was that I am not very good at calculus, I nearly failed out of school because of thermodynamics. I nearly failed because the things engineers do most, turn patterns into numbers and numbers into physical objects are things that run counter to how my brain works. Despite my excellent grades in math and science. Because as it turns out poets do not make very good engineers.

Before I say another word. I want to say this, we are all brilliant.

Others of you may have been told that you’re not smart, not smart enough. By classmates, or by teachers, or by a standardized test score.

Be that as it may, whatever teachers, peers or tests may say, you are brilliant.

The trouble started for me, as it starts for everyone when we start teaching kids in schools to value certain kinds of intelligence over others. As Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized advocate for creativity in education has noted, every institutionalized education system in the world has the same hierarchy of subjects. Math and science are at the top and with them logical intelligence, linguistics and writing after that, the humanities after that and then finally the arts.

Imagine then, although some of you know full well, if you were gifted in one of those intelligences on the “lower end of the academic totem pole” in a society where compulsory education focuses nearly all of it’s resources  on the other intelligences.

Allow me to draw a parallel from the animal kingdom. In the Serengeti of africa there is nothing better than the Giraffe at picking the leaves off the tops of trees. They are the very best at what they do. Salmon are also in their own way the very best at what they do. No fish can swim upstream with as much strength and determination, as Salmon can.

Many of our schools today are asking Salmon to try their best to pick the leaves of the top of trees.*toss a salmon into the air, watch it fall*  It’s a silly image isn’t it?
What happened to me, as happens to countless other engineers in training, is I managed to catch a few leaves in my mouth on the way down and I was labeled a giraffe. Good grades in math and science labeled me as an engineer before anyone including me could take the time to figure out what I was really skilled at.

But now I know I am not a giraffe. I am not an engineer. I am a poet. I take patterns in the world and I turn them into words that impact people. Knowing that there is no limit to what I can accomplish as a speaker, as a writer, and as an agent for change in the world.

Another story, borrowed from Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element”. about Gillian Lynne, When Gillian Lynne was a little girl, she could not sit still in school, she fell behind in all of her coursework, she couldn’t focus. Her mother and her teacher became concerned and brought her in to a counselor who listened while her teachers explained everything that was going wrong in the class room. And he watched as Gillian sat on her hands and tried not to be too much of a bother. After they had finished explaining he asked for her teacher to leave the room. Once it was just little Gillian Lynne, her mother and the counselor, he turned on his radio.Music began to play. and Gillian began to dance. After the song had ended, the counselor turned his radio back off and quietly explained. “She’s not sick, she’s a dancer.” Gillian Lynne went on to have a successful career in solo ballet, and to choreography where she would meet Andrew Lloyd Webber and choreograph Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Two of the greatest hits broadway has ever known.

I want to share these stories with you to show you how simple it can be to harness a lifetime of brilliance, even your own. Find the passion in the hearts and lives around you. And nurture them, support them, give them what they need to grow, mentor them if you can. You might unlock a hidden genius.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Goal Setting: Step Three

Scoring and Prioritization

Once you've got your list, the next step is to figure out which set of goals you think are in front of you to work on right now. There are two different metrics I used for scoring my goals, Importance and Timing. The scales (feel free to adapt them however you like) Looked like this (with examples from my list)

1. Downright silly (Target shooting with a large caliber rifle)
2. Less Silly, But still (Go into Space)
3. This has some redeeming quality (Have a sword)
4. This is Neat, Great, Cool Etc. (Sail on a tall Ship)
5. This will help me or someone else in the long run (Have a woodshop)
6. Expresses some core value (Have a book published)
7. Passionately Expresses some Core value (Learn to Grow fruits and vegetibles)
8. Shares my Core Values with others (Perform together in a show with M.M.)
9. Grows my ability to share my core values (Mentor a writer)
10. Mission Critical, Without accomplishing this I missed the mark on a core value (Be an evangelist)
A. I could start now (Thank an old friend for his influence in my life) 
B. I need to do some other things before I can start (A trip to Isreal)
C. I can't control when I get the opportunity to do this (See a solar eclipse)

Obviously, the extent to which one goal or another fits the scale can vary, the point is to figure out the most important goals you can start on now. Once you've got all your 10-A's figured out you've got a short list of goals that are lined up with your values that you can choose from to get started on.

Goal Setting: Step Two

The "Popcorn List"

Time to start writing the Popcorn list. It started from the concept of the Bucket List i.e. "things to do before I kick the bucket." In our version, each item on the list is a popcorn kernel, which we'd like to see "pop" in our lives. If we've surrendered our lives to the lordship of Christ, then we've also surrendered our goals. When the kernels pop, we get the opportunity to act on those goals, if they don't they stay on the list and wait for another time. Either way, what we're writing here is the completely unfiltered list of 101 things that we want over the next 3 or 5 or 10 years. As a junior in college my horizon was 10 years since my next 3 years were heavily invested in school, now, as a graduating senior I'll be looking at a 3 year span. 

The kernels end up looking a sentence with 3 parts. It always starts the same...
"In 3/5/10 years I will..."
Then in the middle there is an action, of which there are a few different kinds:
  • Do (Write a book ) 
  • Have (a Camera)
  • Be (a Distinguished Toastmaster)
  • Learn (fluent Sign Language)
  • Go (to San Francisco with*** someone who loves it, you know who you are.)
Then finish with the specifics (I've given examples of each category in the parenthesis after each type)

I recommend that you start with a few categories to brainstorm on, which can come from your interests, your core values, or just one of the Goal types like "Be" or "Have." For example, mine were: Writing, Learning, Haves, Relationships, Physical, Be,Go, and Build. Those categories got me to about 80. After that things did end up getting a little sillier, but the point is to get beyond what you might normally think about, I know that I discovered some interesting things about my self in the last 10-15 goals as I was fishing at the bottom of my brain to fill out the last couple goals.

It's time to brainstorm, that weekend we spent an afternoon on this part. So set aside a good block of time, get comfortable, and start writing!

*** This "with" piece of some goals is very important, since a number of my goals revolved around getting to know a friend better or sharing some experience together. I won't have accomplished the goal of getting to San Fransisco unless I've got somebody by my side to tell me the stories and show me the places that I need to see. A few of my categories were a name, followed by the goals I have for the two of us.

Goal Setting: Step One


This is the beginning of a short series of posts about goal setting, it describes the process that about 10 of the men in my spiritual family went through to set some really meaningful goals for the coming months and years. That retreat was about 2 years ago. 10 men cooped up in a 3 room cabin in the woods, in upstate New York, in the depth of winter. It was a very intense weekend of focused work (a few of us even fasted), and it was a critical point in my life that kicked off a number of the best decisions I ever made. I've accomplished a number of the goals on that list. Since we're coming up on the new year, and I'm going through the process again, I've decided to share a little bit of what I learned that weekend. Happy New Year!

Step One: Digging down to core values.

Imagine a bunch of managers fresh from the airport sitting around a hotel conference room at 8 in the morning, ready for a day of learning about how to be more effective managers. They're sporting power suits, fancy watches, holding their executive pens and their notepads. They aren't expecting what's about to come.

The man they've all paid to come see walks into the room and, after introductions and a few warm up exercises  asks them to concentrate, close their eyes, and imagine the following scenario.

     In your mind's eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one, Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You the the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
     As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
     As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended ... the second speaker is one of your friends... The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or come community organization where you've been involved in service... Now think deeply. What would you like these speakers to say about your life? - Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 2
The man they've come to see is Stephen Covey, and you can imagine the atmosphere in the room. Tense silence. They were all thinking they would get a few new management techniques, and they are plunged into a soul searching exercise that brings them face to face with their own mortality. The power of this method is that it immediately shows the real value of the things that we spend our time and energy on. No one in that room wants his coworkers to say "he climbed the corperate ladder with the best of them" or his best friend to say "boy, he really had the nicest cars"

We start at the foundation of our goals, our core values, or what Covey calls our "center."

Once we have written out their speeches, we can start to distill our values from what they say. For example, I wanted a coworker of mine to be able to say that I was "passionate about the best - not just good enough, mature beyond his age, hard working and kind." I encourage you to write as specifically as you can, have in mind specific stories they might tell about you to show those values.

Find the things that repeat, for example, all of the people that spoke at my funeral mentioned that I was passionate or wholehearted about what I do, and nearly all of them mentioned something about not letting people around me (including them) stay stuck. So I ended up with wholeheartedness and  "not-enabling" (I'd love suggestions for a way to say that in the positive) as core values. All told you should have anywhere between 5-10 core values.