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Keep It Simple

The KISS Concept

KISS, in terms of Lean and Kaizen, means ‘Keep It Simple & Stupid’. When I first started working as a Production Supervisor, my boss introduced me to this concept. The idea is that the simpler the design is, the easier the process is for production to understand, and therefore, should reduce the chances of creating problems later on.

My boss then was a die-hard Operations guy; a West Point Graduate, former helicopter pilot, and Veteran of the Somalia conflict of 1993. After leaving the military, he worked for GE and worked his way up through various Operations and Supply Chain positions before coming to us, where headed up our manufacturing and production as the Operations Manager. He had a real military leadership side of him that showed in both his compassion for those who reported to him, and in his displeasure for those that could not perform to his standards. This approach made him some enemies in Engineering, Quality, and Purchasing, but the people in Manufacturing and Production reveled in his knowledge of manufacturing operations, and how he stood up to anyone who tried to place blame on his people. No one I knew ever worked harder in his position. And it was his knowledge of Lean that helped lay the foundation of success for our organization back when rarely one job was delivered on time.


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In the early months of me taking over the production line, we decided to organize a Kaizen event. This event was going to cover the entire production line from Receiving, through Production, and into Shipping. During my preparation and planning phases, I laid everything out on a table in our largest conference room. We were going to spend an entire 5 days (one entire work week) to overhaul the production line. I, my Production Leads, and a few other key people spent days designing how we wanted our line to look and feel. We spent hours piecing everything together; literally cutting and pasting cardboard and paper into hundreds of different designs to see how everything flowed, until after about two weeks, we finally settled on a finished layout. We then decided to share the design with our boss.

When the Ops Manager came in and saw our design, he deflated rather quickly. To this day, I don’t know if it was because we spent so much time on it that we lost sight of our ultimate goals, or if we were only trying to make everyone happy, but the result was that we had designed a production line to make our own lives easier with no account for the people on the line. After it was so blatantly and abruptly pointed out to us, I was embarrassed.

We were now down to a few days before the scheduled start of the Kaizen event, and we had to start over from scratch. Luckily, all the time we had spent during the first go-around, all of us became very intimate with all the inner workings of how the material flowed, how it was delivered, what our goals really were, and shortly thereafter, how to optimize the line based on what Production actually needed.

As our boss stormed out of the room that day, the last words he said were “KISS It!” All we had to do was talk to the operators on the line, and within one 8-hour shift, we knew exactly what was needed. To KISS a project means to design everything as simple as possible. Obviously, there are elements within Engineering and Production which require some complex calculations, design, and drawings which need to remain, however, when it comes to what the Operators see on the line, for example; Work Instructions, work flow, material staging, kanban, and overall layout, it needs to be simple and very easy to understand. In a world full of part shortages, quality problems, and engineering revisions, the last thing an operator needs is to have to deal with the simple things also being complicated.

In Category: Kaizen, KISS

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