Content By Harish Jose

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By: Harish Jose

In this article, I will be looking at entropy in the manufacturing world. Entropy is generally defined as a measure of disorder. This general definition can sometimes be inadequate.

Let’s look at the example of a desk in an office. One could say that if the desk appears to be in order (i.e., neat and tidy), then it has low entropy. However, the concept of orderliness is very subjective. To me, if I am able to know where everything is, and I can access each item quickly, then my desk has low entropy. It may not seem “ordered” to an outsider, and he may conclude that my desk has high entropy.

Harish Jose’s picture

By: Harish Jose

The world of systems is very wide and deep, and this column can’t be perfect and all-encompassing. My goal here is to emphasize that solutions based on incomplete models lead to incomplete solutions. I’m not calling them incorrect solutions, just incomplete solutions.

Every problem model is a mental construct. Unfortunately, this means that the problem “reality” and the problem “model” are not identical. The mental construct of the problem model depends very much on the person constructing the model. This is affected by the person’s mental models, heuristics, knowledge, wisdom, and biases. This leads to what I call “the incomplete solution.”

The system model must be as close to the actual system as possible. The problem model must be as close to the actual problem as possible. However, this cannot be done. Thus, the problem model is an incomplete construct. Furthermore, the solution must match the problem construct.; thus, the solution derived from the incomplete problem model is also incomplete.

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By: Harish Jose

As our new year unfolds, I wanted to write an article to remind myself of three pieces of advice. They are from Epictetus (55–135 AD), Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD), and George Pólya (1887–1985). Epictetus and Aurelius are two famous Stoic philosophers of the past, and Pólya is a famous Hungarian mathematician.

Epictetus

Epictetus spent his youth as a slave, which set the backdrop for his stoicism. His original name is unknown. The name “Epictetus” in Greek means “acquired.” Epictetus himself did not write any books; however, his follower, Arrian, wrote down his teachings. One of the most famous quotes attributed to Epictetus is:It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it, that matters.

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By: Harish Jose

The Forth Bridge is a famous railroad bridge in Scotland and is more than 125 years old. It needs painting to fend off rust. Albert Cherns, the late famous social scientist who founded the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, identified the Forth Bridge principle as part of the nine principles for designing a sociotechnical system. He also referred to this as “the principle of incompletion.” 

Until 2002 he Forth Bridge was never fully freshly painted—it was always incomplete. A posse of painters started at the Midlothian end, and by the time they reached the Fife end, the Midlothian end would require repainting. In Cherns’ words, “Design is a reiterative process. The closure of options opens new ones. At the end, we are back at the beginning. As soon as design is implemented, its consequences indicate the need for redesign.”

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By: Harish Jose

I had a conversation recently with a quality professional from another organization. The topic somehow drifted to the strict quality standards in Japan. The person talked about how his product is rejected by his Japanese counterparts for “defects” such as small blemishes and debris. The defects meet corporate standards, yet the product gets rejected at the Japanese warehouse. My response was that I felt the Japanese were looking at the product from the eyes of the customer—that the small blemishes and debris negatively impact the perception of quality even if the product is fine.

In Japanese, the term for quality is hinshitsu (hin = goods, and shitsu = quality). With the advent of total quality management, the idea of two “qualities” was made more visible by Noriaki Kano. He termed these “miryokuteki hinshitsu,” (attractive quality) and “atarimae hinshitsu,” (must-be quality).

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By: Harish Jose

Kaizen is often translated as “continuous improvement” and identified as one of the core themes in lean. Today I’m pondering the question: Can kaizen ever be bad for an organization?

In order to go deeper on this question, first we have to define kaizen as a focused improvement activity. The question at this point is whether we are optimizing the process. Merriam-Webster defines optimization as: “an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.”

In my opinion, kaizen does not mean to optimize the process to 100-percent perfection. My point of contention on this is that kaizen should not be about local optimization. Local optimization means to make a process fully functional without taking the whole system into consideration. This leads to tremendous waste. The local improvement should not cause a problem in an upstream or downstream activity. My best analogy is to work out the upper body without taking the lower body into consideration. This leads to a disproportionately developed body.

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By: Harish Jose

Uncertainty is all around us. A lean leader’s main purpose is to develop people so they can tackle uncertainty. There are two ways to tackle uncertainty: One is genchi genbutsu (go and see, or seeing for yourself), and the other is to employ the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, a method for learning and improvement developed by statistician Walter Shewhart.

Claude Shannon, the father of Information Theory, viewed information as the possible reduction in uncertainty in a system. In other words, greater uncertainty presents a greater potential for new information. This can be easily shown as the following equation: New information gain = reduction in uncertainty.

Shannon called uncertainty “entropy” based on advice from his friend John Von Neumann, a mathematical genius and polymath. The entropy in Information Theory is not exactly the same as the entropy in thermodynamics. They are similar in that entropy is a measure of a system’s degree of disorganization. In this regard, information can be viewed as a measure of a system’s degree of organization. Shannon recalled his conversation with Von Neumann, which I quote here from Scientific American (1971), vol. 225, no. 3, p. 180:

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By: Harish Jose

Today I’d like to take a look at a lesson from Taiichi Ohno regarding the pursuit of quality. His comment, “The pursuit of quantity cultivates waste, while the pursuit of quality yields value,” struck a chord with me. Among other things, he's referring to the importance of resisting mass-production thinking, and that reminded me of a similar concept, what’s now known as the Deming chain reaction. For both of these quality masters, quality improvement was the key to productivity and market share.

During Ohno’s time with Toyota, he instituted a type of alert called an andon, which means “lantern” in Japanese. On the shop floor andons are used to alert workers—either visually or by sound—about where to direct their attention. Toyota requires operators to pull an andon cord to stop a production line if a defect is found, or if there’s a stock outage. Andons also alert managers about the issue. They are an effective way to keep everyone on the shop floor aware of quality practices.

Taiichi Ohno

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By: Harish Jose

There is a concept in lean known as a “monument.” It refers to a large machine, piece of equipment, or something similar that can’t be changed right away, and so you have to plan your processes around it. This generally impedes the flow and frequently becomes a hindrance to lean initiatives. A monument is the opposite of the “flow” and “no waste” concepts of lean. But monuments don’t always refer to equipment or similar hardware.

The worst kind of monument can sometimes be the culture or mental models prevalent in a company. This results in the following excuses:
• It might work in Japan but not here.
• But we have to do it this way.
• This is how we’ve always done it, and this is how I was taught.
• How does cutting down inventory help with my production?

The productivity paradox

From luggage to carry-on

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By: Harish Jose

In this article I want to look at the concept of equifinality in relation to the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. In systems theory, equifinality is defined as reaching the same end, no matter what the starting point was. This is applicable only in an open system, one that interacts with its external environment. This could be in the form of information, material, or energy. I want to focus particularly on the repeatability of the PDCA cycle.

PDCA is the framework for the scientific method. If three different people, with different ways of thinking, are facing the same problem, can all three reach the same end goal using the PDCA process? This would imply that equifinality is possible—see the illustration below. Point A is the initial condition, and point B is the final desired condition. The three different colored lines depict the three different thinking styles.