Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Golden Muda award...

The Golden Muda (Japanese word for waste) award is an honor bestowed on businesses that excel in wasteful expenditures of all types such as customer time, money, and the like. It's my way of saying...stop wasting and get lean!

Today's recipient is the Lowe's store on the east side of Indianapolis. I needed to locate some fire bricks for a fireplace project and so I called in to see if they had any in stock. After navigating through the needlessly long IVR menu, the phone started ringing. I lost track after ten rings and started praying that someone would answer. Once I got to a human being, the conversation went like this...

Lowes clerk #1: This is (name deleted) in Masonary. How may I help you?

Kaizeneer: Do you have any firebrick?

Lowes clerk #1: I don't know...let me check. (Puts me on hold)

Lowes clerk #1: I'll transfer you...

Lowes clerk #2: Lawn and garden, how can I help you?

Kaizeneer: Do you have any firebrick?

Lowes clerk #2: This is Lawn and garden, why did they transfer you to me? I'll transfer you...

Lowes clerk #1: This is (name deleted)in Masonary. How may I help you?

And this loop went on two more times before I hung up out of frustration. As it turned out, my dad and I developed a kaizen that didn't require firebrick at all once we reasoned through that the brick would never get more then maybe 125 degrees F based on what we were doing. So, we used bricks that I already had saving us a few dollars and at least 45 minutes driving. In this case, Lowe's muda led to a Lafever intergenerational kaizen. So, I award my first ever Golden Muda to Lowes on E 25th street in Indy! Congratulations on this prestigious honor.

What did you improve in 2008?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kaizen at home - 8,154 reasons why continous improvement works for our family!

As I am ending the year of our Lord, 2008. I decided to go back and calculate the monetary value of various improvements made this year in our family budget. As I began to go back and determine the financial benefits, I was astounded at the savings...and I am not done with my totals yet.

So far, I have calculated $8,154.83 of savings, cash recovered from selling stuff we weren't using, recovered long lost gift cards, and other financial improvements. In a future column, I'll break down many of these from the big ones (Furnace replacement) to the small ones (picking free local apples and bike riding to work). Even the tiniest kaizens that save time and money can make a big difference when combined with medium and large scale improvements. In addition, I will attempt to determine the time savings and other benefits gained in 2008.

"There's a way to do it better - find it." Thomas A. Edison

What did you improve in 2008?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Great Household Purge update - 12/16/08

We started our journey of purging the waste, or muda(Japanese word for waste) in July. Our household didn't become bogged down with junk in a day and it will take months to complete the process. Here's some of my latest stats:

-$1791 cash recovered from selling unused stuff
-$71 in cash and unused gift cards found during purging.
-Over 800 hundred items donated to charity
-A vehicle donated to a family of a cancer victim.
-At least 100 square feet of storage space recovered.

We're slowed down a bit as we coast to 2009 but slowly were are still purging. With Christmas and the year end approaching, we're trying to get the last of anything donated for a tax write off. I added $11 to the total as I took in more scrap metal although the scrap prices have fallen dramatically. The biggest opportunity I see is to to keep purging our household now while we have a chance. As the economy turns sour, we'll see garage sales of like we have never seen before and probably more bargain shoppers than you can shake a stick at. I have also been surprised at the local thrift store because they have stopped taking donations most days of the week. My guess is that customers aren't buying so they can't reduce their inventory. Which leads me to an improvement idea...

Kaizen opportunity - I am going to approach our local school to see if they use any of the excess supplies that I have to help students. That way, I am purging my items as well as helping needy kids in school. Practicing Kaizen helps you find win-win opportunities. Now more than ever, it's time to use creativity over capital!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Monday, December 15, 2008

Commercial Electric CFL bulbs - why these failed the kaizeneer's test

One of my kaizens at home several years ago was to replace all the incandescent bulbs with compact flourescent bulbs (CFL). The CFLs were more expensive so I made the replacements slowly over a matter of months. Later, I noticed the some of the CFL bulbs were failing pre-maturely. I had put my trust in the manufacturers claims of longer life but it wasn't panning out. So, I started writing the date of replacement on the base of the CFL with a black Sharpie so I would know how many days had elasped from installation to failure. Due to poor CFL quality, I was not able to realize the financial ROI that the Commercial Electric company claims-in fact, I am sure I lost money using this product.

To make a long story short, the Commercial Electric CFL bulbs I bought have had a high failure rate and have not lived up to the claims of long life when I checked the installation dates recorded. Foolish me, I didn't save the packaging or my receipt(another kaizen!) so I can't get them replaced. However, my kaizen of writing the installation dates on the bases has paid off and I will no longer purchase CFLs made by Commercial Electric. The brand names CFLs like Sylvania have fared much better. Here's the exact information on the bulbs that failed:

Commercial Electric CFL
Model EDXO-14
120V 60Hz
14W .200A
V # 42836

Keep on improving. You can't afford not to!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Friday, December 12, 2008

Funny Video Friday - 12/12/08

Signs you've had too much egg nog...

Leaving out too many cookies for Santa...

Overdoing the light displays...
Funny video on Funnyplace.org

Cartoon characters sing carols...

The Tweleve days of Christmas sounds like...Toto's Africa?

Merry Christmas!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mix and match employer benefits to save cash.

Several years ago, my wife was a part time worker at a local hospital and I was employed by another. As a part time employee, she was not eligible for any benefits. So for years, I carried all the insurance our family needed. Then, two changes occurred that allowed us to explore new options and do a kaizen or improvement idea to get the same benefits at a lower cost.

-My wife’s new employer gave part time employees full benefits
-My employer no long made all benefits exclusive i.e. you could pick whatever insurance benefits you wanted (all, some, or none) instead of all or nothing.

The kaizen idea we came up with was to mix and match benefits for the best price. Here’s what we did this year:

If we took full medical, dental, and vision insurance from my wife’s plan, the cost was $216.91 per pay.

If we took full medical, dental, and vision insurance from my plan, the cost was $206.24 per pay or a savings of $10.67.

If we chose medical, dental, and vision insurance at the lowest price in each plan, the cost went down to $187.42, a savings of $29.49 over the most expensive benefits package. The really cool thing was that the dental and vision plans from each employer were identical. So, we get the same insurance at the lower cost-in case of the dental, it’s almost $30 less a pay.

The really cool thing is that my employer will pay any employee a set amount NOT to be on the company’s health insurance. So, our savings are now $79.49 a pay. That’s an almost $2000 a year saving. Try this mixing and matching benefits kaizen and see how you can use creativity over capital!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prime numbers at the dental office.

1,2,3,7, and 13.

The kaizen given to me by Dr. Goldsmith’s office worked beautifully. They told me to set my appt. up first thing in the morning to reduce the wait time to be seen. I took their recommendation as well as taking my timing device and recorded each process step and rounded up to the nearest minute. Here is what I measured:

Arrival time: 7:35AM ( I must confess that I was 5 minutes late!)
Lounge wait time: 1 minute
Dental chair seating and Xray: 3 minutes
Wait to see dentist: 2 minutes
Root canal evaluation time: 7 minutes
Departure time: 7:48PM
Door to door turnaround time: 13 minutes

I was thrilled at the improvement and reduction in wait time and very pleased at the service I received. Both the assistant and Dr. Goldsmith set the appropriate time expectations and were very professional. One reason that I see that kaizen, or continuous improvement, works so well is that it embodies the value of humility. A proud person might complain or be rude in an effort to get better service instead of humbling themselves to ask the person who schedules appointments for help. In this case, I engaged myself, the expert of my own customer service expectations, and the office scheduler Jara, an expert at scheduling patients, to achieve an improvement of reducing wait times. Working together, we made it better.

I am so grateful for their collaboration to improve.

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reducing my wait time at the dentist

If you have read my post about my wait times at the dentist http://littlebylittlechange.blogspot.com/2008/11/muda-monday-waiting-at-dentist.html, you know I don't like to sit around doing nothing. I spent some time trying to figure out how to reduce my waiting when I realized that I should just call and ask since they are a stakeholder in this process. Fortunately, the office called me to schedule a follow-up appointment. Here's how that conversation went:

Dentist office: "I called you today to schedule an appointment for a follow-up on your root canal"

Kaizeneer: "OK. I just wanted to let you know, that I measured my wait times the last two times I was there. The first time I waited 40 minutes for the root canal, the second time I waited for 45 minutes. I wanted to inform you that I if I have to wait more than 15 minutes for my appointment, I will cancel my appointment and re-schedule."

Dentist office: (slight concern in voice) "Oh. Well if you do not want to wait, I would suggest scheduling your appointment when we open at 7:30 or at 1PM after we return from lunch."

I'm pretty sure that my data and my promise to wait 15 minutes and cancel motivated the person that called me to offer this kaizen. To their credit, they responded with a way to improve my service and keep my business. Regardless, I will take my stopwatch and report back to see if I experienced a reduction in wait time. So, take some measurements of the service you receive and share the results with the business you are measuring. If they respond well, they surely value your patronage. If they don't respond, it's time to find one that does. The data you take share removes the fuzziness and provides objective metrics which can be improved. To quote William Deming, father of the modern quality movement:

"In God we trust, all others bring data."

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Monday, December 8, 2008

Muda Monday: Lessons from my grandparents

Muda is the Japanese word for waste. My grandparents never new any Japanese, but they knew about reducing waste and getting the most out of what they had. My Grandpa Lafever had an 8th grade education and started life in the now submerged valleys of the TVA reservoirs in eastern Tennessee. When he died, he was a successful farmer in east central Indiana, left a sizable farm and estate to his two college educated sons, and passed on a prosperous legacy for all six grandchildren of whom have university degrees. One of the key factors in his prosperity was the astute financial management and common sense of using resources to their fullest extent. Along the way, I saw how my grandparents optimized their farm operation and turn muda into money:

1) Waste of one kind became a raw material for something else.

Baby food jars became screw containers. Old appliances and machines were taken apart and the bolts and fasteners became the "hardware" store which not only saved Grandpa money but also saved time making trips to town. Even old soup cans became tractor mufflers for a very low cost repair. Baling twine got reused as gate ties, and old rusty fence got a second life repairing holes where calves could escape

2) Food unfit for people became animal feed.

There was no curbside trash service to Grandpa's house so food waste got sent to animals. The cows would eat pretty much whatever was left over from supper as soon as it was thrown over the fence. What was left after the bovine crew ate was usually eaten by some nocturnal scavenger. Even the gnarly old apples off the backyard tree got thrown over the fence so that a four legged beast could have a treat. Every bit of food could help fatten cows and pigs for market.

3) Plentiful poop powers produce!

Oh yes, bovine waste makes good fertilizer. Not only did Grandpa spread it around on crop fields, but when he saw a dried up pile in the pasture, he would kick it as hard as he could to bust it up and spread it around to fertilize the grass. Everything, even cow manure, had its purpose and opportunity. The joke used to be that if you could smell cow or pig feces, you would say, "I smell money!"

4) Everything has some value or use.

I could never see any use for thorn or hedge apple trees. But even the the old thorn trees could be cut down and used for firewood. Old rotted fence posts could be part of a bonfire or the good parts were cut up to be made into something else. There was no end to their sense of thrift.

My grandpa and grandma didn't like to see us leave food on our plates so they insisted we eat everything. They hated waste...they were great kaizeneers in their own right. Their frugal ways paid dividends not only to them but to their children and grand children. I am most grateful for their lessons.

Take a minute and reflect to see what you could use more efficiently. In our culture, most people don't stop and consider what they waste, let alone what is not optimized. You may not only find some great kaizens to improve your life and save time, and you to might find ways to "smell the money."

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Funny Video Friday - 12/5/08

The dark side of Santa...

(Please note - I try to put nothing on my site except G or mild PG videos for the whole family to enjoy. Sometimes the videos that come up from youtube afterwards are not family friendly. If anyone knows how to stop that, please let me know! )

How he pays for all those toys...

Bowing to political correctness...

Why PETA hates St. Nick...

Happy Non-denominational Winter Holiday!

Dan Lafever. Kaizeneer

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kaizen - your secret weapon in a down economy

We all hear it everyday. Bailouts, layoffs, closings, and the endless parade of bad news. It seems everyone is in cost cutting mode. Using Kaizen or Lean techniques, you can start your journey to improve and find the money wasters that eat away at your income and gnaw at your wallet. Here's a story of how I save a bundle on a furnace using Kaizen. Just using one simple question, "How can I do this better?" led to the result below.

My home furnace was 23 years old and needed to be replaced. I received an estimate from the outfit that inspected and cleaned it of $3100 to replace it.

First Kaizen improvement - gets estimates from different companies for competitive bidding.

I called several places for bid and only two called back. On top of that, only one bidder showed up. He gave me a bid of $3195 for the same furnace. I guess all those other places had so much business that they didn't need my money. My hunch is that they didn't have an efficient process for retrieving messages from voice mail. Another example of where muda, or waste, can stop new business.

Second Kaizen improvement - deduct cost of furnace cleaning from the bid.

Now I had reduced the cost to $3025 with an email. My next Kaizen was to negotiate the bid down and see how much I could reduce it by removing the old furnace myself. What happened then was unexpected but led me down a new path. My father called me and needed help replacing his furnace and I spent a couple days helping him which led to my next kaizen.

Third Kaizen improvement - use this project to educate myself and evaluate the difficulty of replacing a furnace.

After helping my dad, it didn't seem so bad to replace my own gas furnace. Now I can tell you that if you go out and look at various internet forums that everyone will tell you not to replace your own furnace because you will blow your house up. This is classic FUD - Fear, Uncertainly, and Doubt. I called my city government and they insisted that a homeowner can't do it. However, a contractor friend of mine said that a homeowner can do this and then he came over and gave me guidance. Just a note, some contractors want you to be afraid so you will hire them.

Fourth Kaizen improvement - replace my own furnace

My same contractor friend had some older furnaces that he bought from a merger with another company. He had a scratch and dent model with a full 5 year warranty for $385.00 so I bought it. In yet another bit of good fortune, my brother had recently worked on his gas furnace and offered to help my replace my old one. Now I had a new furnace and labor...we did the work in a weekend and I am so grateful for his help since he knew how to handle natural gas.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I am not advocating replacing your furnace if you don't know what you are doing-proceed at your own risk!

The total cost of my furnace replacement started at $3100 and with Kaizen and constantly finding ways to improve, I replaced it for about $425. Total saved on the project was $2675.

If you use Kaizen correctly, you can find improvements that can really save you money during hard times. Use it as a secret weapon!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer