Ready! Fire! Aim!...Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?

ready fire aim picOne of kaizen's unofficial taglines is, "Just do it." And it makes sense. We try to spin the PDCA wheel as fast and as frequently as possible in order to experiment and quickly learn and make adjustments. But, sometimes we should just do it AFTER careful and extensive simulation. It seems wimpy, but it's about managing risk. Lean leaders should care about that.

So, when does it make sense to simulate an improvement? We actually do it all the time when we trystorm. Trystorming is a melding of brainstorming and simulation. It can be really simple stuff or it can be much more involved. People tend to be fairly OK with the simple stuff, but start getting weak in the knees when meaty simulation is required. They don't want to take too much time simulating. It can be slow and tedious.

Simple simulation. People can tolerate simple simulation like pantomiming the new standard work sequence with a draft standard work sheet and standard work combination sheet in hand before they try it out for the first time. Then they can make adjustments on the way. Hey, who wouldn't be OK with that level of effort and spontaneity?

More extensive. The more extensive simulations take time and require a certain rigor. Why do we need to endure this pain? Because the implementation of improved or brand new systems can cause big problems if we don't iron out some of the more substantial flaws. Often we don't know what we don't know. Here are two types of extensive simulations.

  • Many people apply 3P (production preparation process) when developing substantially new or improved processes  and/or products.  As we all know, locking in a poorly designed product or process is a recipe for long-term pain and suffering. In brief, 3P is a team-based methodology in which the members down-select from multiple alternatives to seven different ways for a new improved process (or product), simulate the new process with crude, inexpensive, and quickly applied materials (PVC, cardboard, wood, duct tape, etc.), then whittle down the options to three best process designs (as measured against predetermined selection criteria), followed by more trystorming and then ultimate selection.
  • Supermarket pull is a wonderful thing when properly applied, but you've got to get it right in order to ensure that the downstream customers are not starved and that there is no excess inventory. Pull system or kanban system simulations are extremely valuable. Using production kanban as an example, after taking a first cut at demand analysis, percent load analysis, determining what the kanban strategy will be (i.e., in process, batch - pattern, batch board, triangle), sizing the kanban, formulating the draft standard work (how/who/when regarding kanban posts, emergency kanbans, scheduling protocol, etc.), etc., we need to simulate the system using real historical demand data and some invented surprises.  The simulation requires cards for all of the inventory, mock kanban posts, "scheduling," capacity analysis...the whole nine yards! It is critical to find out when and where the system breaks in a big way and then figure out what needs to be adjusted...before it goes live.

So, what are your experiences with either high intensity simulations or implementations where it would have been a good idea to simulate (or simulate better)?

Related posts: Kaizen Principle: Be like MacGyver, use creativity before capital!, Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

There are 9 Comments

Ron Pereira's picture

Great post. I have found tremendous benefit simulating kanban systems... specifically the surprises as you call them. For example, in one case we simulated the 'day in the life' of the cell assuming the historical performance continued. This was great as it got everyone used to this new way of thinking.

Then I asked how they would handle a 2X increase in demand from customer XYZ. This forced them to squirm, think, squirm some more... but after this - and other simulated surprises - this team was ready to roll with extreme confidence on the day the system went live.

On the six sigma side of things... I have found Monte Carlo simulation very beneficial to predict what level of process capability a new part (based on part tolerance stack ups, etc) would run at. With a good model we can predict Ppk quite accurately.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the comment. The Monte Carlo simulation for Ppk sounds like an excellent application! Man, I wish I had thought of that.

Best regards,
Mark

Mark Graban's picture

I love the use of manual, simple simulation. I've worked with people in a hospital lab who mocked up their new/future process with cardboard boxes and tables, mocked up workbenches, etc. to:

1) See how well (or not) things would work
2) Get buy in and support (and PDCA input) from other colleagues and staff members

markrhamel's picture

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the comment! Yes, simple, visual and tactile stuff really works, although people often think we're crazy when we coach them to do it. To skeptics it seems like a game of "pretend," but I think it's much more REAL (as your points note) than sitting in a conference room and talking about it.

Best regards,
Mark

Andrew Bishop's picture

When creating new interactive visual displays we "pretend" as the core process in development. All the stakeholders are in the room and walk through their roles, typically designing on a piece of flip chart paper stuck to cork board. Flip chart markers and stick pins substitute for dry erase markers and magnets. You see what works and what doesn't and then try out new variants/ideas. Clean sheet of paper! Multiple time consuming databases (the contents of which were of course hidden from the world or printed out as inaccurate reports) have turned into powerful visual displays in relatively short periods with this simulation approach.

Related to simulation is piloting. One of my teachers (thank you Pascal!) said that if the PDCA cycle is big enough (in time, impact, etc.) the DO step should always include a little PDCA cycle on the side called a pilot. Some of the common sense of which we all need to be reminded from time to time!

markrhamel's picture

Hi Andrew,

Great comment! I assume that the Pascal you refer to is Dennis? It's amazing how interactive low tech stuff is and how it is so powerful. For many this is counter-intuitive. Low tech helps us strip things down to the essentials and, as you say, lets us quickly try a bunch of new ideas/variants (PDCA with the little PDCA pilot).

Thanks,
Mark

Andrew Bishop's picture

Mark:

Yep, that's him - Pascal Dennis.

Andrew Bishop's picture

I thought of this post a couple of weeks ago while facilitating a team setting up supermarkets for internal supplies. Situation is production of growth media in a laboratory. It requires a day or so of lead time and is necessarily in a substantial batch (autoclave run) relative to withdrawal quantity. Concepts of kanban and supermarkets were entirely new to the group which included a manager, a team leader and a couple of front line workers. The value stream design team had decided on supermarkets of ready-to-use media, replenished through production kanbans.

After introducing the simplest of kanban formulas to get the discussion going and identify initial bin sizes, we got out our Legos and simulated (using historical usage data) until everyone understood and everyone was satisfied that the numbers and timing would work.

We had our failures using Legos and clipboards propped up on one end to make "flow racks". The team developed good intuition about why this all works, what can go wrong, and why certain rules are important in the supermarket/kanban set up.

By using the sequence: study current situation, design, simulate (little p-d-c-a), deploy (big P-D-C-A), we had rapid success that was more secure and understanding that went deeper than if we'd skipped the "simulate" and waited for deployment in production to begin "checking and adjusting". I could leave them knowing that they knew what a failure would look like before it happened, knew what to watch for, and knew how to make adjustments with the coach thousands of miles away.

It was also very photogenic. I enjoyed taking pictures of all the adults monkeying around with Legos!

markrhamel's picture

Hi Andrew,

What a great tale from the gemba! Real life application and learning.

Thanks so much for sharing.

Best regards,
Mark