Case Studies

We have worked with many clients in several fields, from manufacturing to non-profits. Here are a few case studies that might be of interest.

Dynamic Modeling - Manufacturing Cell

So That Is How The Cell Operates
“I’ve been the second shift manager for three months and never figured this out.”

A manufacturing cell in one company produced four part families, delivering over 635 finished part numbers. Flow consisted of two stages. First, all products flowed through a single line filled with ‘monument equipment’ (big capital machinery that cannot be moved). Then production branched into the separate lines, one for each family. TAKT time for the single line was twice of any one of the parallel lines.

The company conducted many KAIZEN events (many using Shingijutsu Global Consulting): part presentation, tool shadow boards, standard work instructions, Kanban Boards, First Time Through Perfect exercises, Work In Process (WIP) reduction, Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), and much more. Each event produced many improvements.

However, with all this great improvement work, the cell was experiencing significant overtime and missed delivery dates. An equipment and manpower study showed processes were operating at less than 30% of capacity. All the Lean improvement ‘tools’ had been exhausted and both the internal and external consulting groups had no other ideas for improvement or how to achieve daily production rates.

Time to invite new knowledge from outside the existing paradigm.

Cell technicians (workers), leads, managers and support people were interviewed while standing in the cell. The purpose was to understand all concerns and viewpoints. Cell activities were mapped by observation, reviewed by those in the cell, then the map was revised. Mapping/remapping continued until a consensus was created about how the cell operated, even if some people considered it an over simplification.

A “Tabletop Dynamic Modeling Simulation” of the cell was developed (using Lego® pieces). The simulation visually demonstrated how the cell operated throughout each shift. All managers, supervisors, technicians, and support people participated in several simulations.

A ‘Break Through’ issue was identified. Daily production for a single part family was run through the cell at one time, then the next part family, then the next, and next. Maximizing the efficiency of the single line processes.

However, the slower part family lines would be overwhelmed with inventory, piling up on the floor, making for an unsightly mess of cosmetically sensitive products. Also, on every shift one part family did not have material until ¾ the way through the shift. Which was not enough time to process the products.

The Dynamic simulation allowed testing of different production sequences. Eventually a sequence was agreed to, allowing parts from each part family to trickle to the parallel processes throughout the shift. While the new sequence initially place a minor strain on the single line flow processes, the overall effectiveness of the cell greatly improved. There was no other appreciable cost associated with the change.


The new part sequencing was implemented almost immediately. On the first full shift the cell performed to delivery requirements. With no extra effort, confusion, or stress. Mandatory overtime was no long needed, which the workers appreciated. And finished products were delivered on time.

Secondary benefit: managers and workers commented how they finally understood the way the cell behaved throughout their shift.


Manual simulations provide a powerful means:

  • For people to understand how they fit into the success of the group
  • Bringing together diverse elements for a better communication
  • Overcoming assumptions from different groups
  • Going beyond flowcharting to simulation brings new insights
  • Demonstrated that a complex concept, such as Systems Thinking, can be applied in a practical manner at the most fundamental level of the organization.

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Working Together - Systems Engineering

Working Together For Everyone’s Benefit


A manufacturer was using new materials and a new business model. As part of the restructuring, Design Engineering created a special group. Their task was to create custom software for use by Design Engineering and fabrication groups throughout their global supplier network.


Over several years in a ‘program startup’ environment, uncontrolled growth in the number of people on the project, departmental scope creep, and the added burden of geographic separation, much confusion was apparent. The relationships between the programming group, program management, Engineering, and fabrication had deteriorated. In addition, integrating many cultures endemic with world-wide supply chain added to the atmosphere of frustration.

The fabrication group conducted a large LEAN workshop elsewhere in the company. This workshop generated over two dozen requests for additional computer programming from the software group. However, programmers were fully booked for the next year and management was scheduling future staff reduction.


All departments and external partners were setup in silos, each with their own management structure. As the tension of a multi-billion dollar startup project increased, the work environment became highly charged and very emotional. To overcome the tension, communication between each silo became more formal, and complex. The unspoken intent was for each group to protect themselves from the rest of the organization. This new complexity slowed communication and destroyed the ‘team’ atmosphere the company was trying to foster. Accusations of nonsupport and undocumented performance requirements surfaced in high-level management meetings.


The Engineering programming group introduced a unique working meeting structure. The Lead Engineering Architect and a Program Engineer were coached in using facilitation skills in place of the usual confrontation and opinion arguments normally used in the organization.

Early participants (previous skeptics) became advocates and encouraged peer to attend.

“You really need to try this workshop, they are very good at what they do.”

…Terry Meyers, Change Mgmt. Systems Engineering

Subject matter experts from various and effected Engineering groups gathered in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and meaning. The meeting focus was to validate incoming programming requests and provide sufficient requirement descriptions to guide the entire fulfillment process.


During a single meeting most requests were addressed. Two thirds were cancelled or redirected. Several were consolidated, with three requests negotiated for acceptance by programming.

Indirect benefit: Many groups had never met face-to-face to learn how each other conducted business or to define a problem using a structured approach. New understandings emerged during the discussions, and several long-term collaborative relationships were established.

Take Away

During the time of high emotional pressure, great benefit can be found from stepping outside of the day-to-day hassles. Open communication between department silos. Respect people’s time and appreciate their contribution. Focus on working together for the mutual benefit of all.

Tools and Techniques

Create a working meeting structure. Subject matter experts from various groups gathered to validate assumptions and provide sufficient requirement description to guide resolution.

Meeting material includes pre-workshop and workshop plan, details on agenda items, and facilitation guidelines. Topics to cover include:

  • Define requirements: what is the problem - not symptoms, and why is it a problem
  • Define issues: what the solution will do – direct and non-direct
  • Define justification/benefits (measurable units from business perspective)
  • Identify Risks – with solution and/or with no solution
  • Map current process
    • Define scope of map
    • Define input & output criteria
    • Define process activities and relationships
  • Record action items – with assignees

Lead Subject Matter Expert and Project Manager are coached to conduct the meeting and in the use of facilitation guidelines.

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Single Piece Flow - Manufacturing

Single Piece Flow

New Opportunity – New Requirements

Company ‘X’ was a supplier to Ford, producing cargo equipment for Ford's commercial vans, such as a Pendaflex®-style file storage box with writing surface. This installs on the floor between the driver and passenger seats, and the installation is done by Ford. A typical buyer of these vans was a small business owner such as electrician or plumber, that conducted most, if not all of their business from the van. While demand for this product was fairly low, it was below the threshold where Ford's quality and delivery standards fully applied. For example, the company was able to deliver product over three weeks late, which they did on a regular basis.

The Problem

Over time, however, as demand grew, the volume pushed them into Ford' 'Tier 1 Supplier' category. This category of supplier had much more stringent levels of supplier requirements for quality and delivery, which the company was not able to meet.


The final assembly area was greatly disorganized. Although they were behind their deliveries, staff were often idled. Product was being batch-produced on a production schedule that was being set by when parts became available, rather than on actual demand for the product.

Actions Taken

Management recognized they needed a new way of operating in order to stay a supplier to Ford. A ‘Single Piece Flow’ event was conducted.

An important aspect of the Single Piece Flow event was to get individuals from all the different areas - line workers, industrial and quality engineers, maintenance, and management together for a concentrated one-week ‘Learn-Do’ activity'.

Working with plant management, process improvement manager, and support organizations, an experimental area was cleared adjacent to the existing assembly line. This allowed even the most casual observer to visibly see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the workshop.  Simply by moving from a batch process to a single-piece flow, even without the issue of the parts shortage being solved, and before a pull system was implemented, dramatic improvements in production time per unit were seen. Workshop planning allocated $15,000 for new tooling and equipment during the workshop.

Selected individuals from line workers, industrial and quality engineers, maintenance, and management were brought together for a concentrated one-week ‘learn-do’ activity. The week consisted of:

  • Document and analyze the existing product and people flow
  • Explicitly identify process, business, customer requirements
  • Daily cycle of improvement ideas and testing
  • Changes were quantified and documented
  • The workshop concluded with a shop floor demonstration and final report-out to the plant management team


                                                 BEFORE             AFTER            

Work In Process                          12 Units              3 Units
Direct Labor per Unit                   8.75 minutes       4.9 minutes
Direct Labor Travel                      90 Feet               33 Feet
Time between deliverable units    5.62 minutes       2.32 minutes
Number of Operators                   7                        3
Length of Assembly Line              32 Feet               10 Feet
Square Feet                                840                    440

Direct Annual Savings of $500,000

Workshop planning allocated $15,000 for new tooling and equipment during the workshop. Only $500 was actually used.

Other observations;

  • Work area was much quieter
  • People were no longer rushing around looking for tools and supplies
  • Work was deliberate and less frantic
  • Less rework, production issues were addressed immediately
  • Workers supported each other, floating tasks to help others
  • Lead worker anticipated issues, instead of reacting to problems
  • Production output become more predictable


  • 50% improvement now is great improvement!
  • People are eager to help, and need a safe environment to experiment
  • A little guided learning goes a long way for improvement
  • The importance of tying improvement efforts to strategic initiatives

Improvement Events are Typically
 Repeated Fast Cycles of 'Learn-Do'

Keeping the workshop 'Low-Tech' encourages everyone to participate in the 'Learning' and 'Doing.'

Here is an outline of most improvement workshops.

  1. Plan – identify area, develop charter, select team
  2. Education, Training and thorough understanding of the current process – What does the current process ‘look’ like, how does it operate, what information is used and needed
  3. Future state description – what should the process ‘look’ like, what specific and immediate actions are to be taken
  4. Future State Implementation – Roll up your sleeves, go the workplace, test your ideas – process changes, movement of equipment and resources, modify how people accomplish work
  5. Report Out – With senior managers in attendance, reporting on improvements identified, actions taken, benefit description, next steps – no PowerPoint!

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You Only Know What You Know - Design Engineering

You Only Know What You Know
New Knowledge Comes From The Outside

New insights emerge when knowledge is shared at a structured investigative activity and using a facilitated dialogue.

One example was an aerospace part used to keep dirt and water out of a sensitive area of the end product. The part was expensive for what it did and complicated to build. From a business point of view the part was an extremely minor cost of the final product. However, the complications it caused to the organization made it worth a study for improvement.

A group activity called Value Engineering workshop was convened. The attendees consisted of the specialties involved with this part; product design, manufacturing, installation, finance, workers, engineers, managers, and others. Each brought their own solution, mainly telling the other departments to just do their job better.

The group went through structured activities which supported the main questions of: 1) What is it? 2) What does it do? 3) How much does it cost? 4) What else will do that? 5) What does that cost?  They found the old design consisted of

  • 10 Sheet Metal Components
  • 57 Rivets
  • 90 Linear Inches of Sealant
  • 9 Suppliers
  • $4,000 each

 After several convergent and divergent activities, the group proposed a new design consisting of:

  • 1 Machined Component
  • 0 Fasteners
  • 0 Linear Inches of Sealant
  • 1 Supplier
  • $100 each

The process of sharing while focused on a mutually beneficial project produces amazing results. One example is while a design engineer was looking at the actual part, he said “in the 23 years I’ve designed products, I’ve never been told how much it costs to install a fastener. All I have to do is place a cross on the drawing where the fastener should go. And I’ve always figured the more the better.”

Take Away

Many Theory-Methods-Tools bring out what is hidden. Once discrepancies, and their meanings, are exposed the group will generate their own improvement ideas. The idea is that you make things visible because you never know what you will find, keep it simple so everyone understands, then move the project forward at one unit. The result is a High Performing Team.

Highly Performing Teams - Thinking As A Community

Traditionally, companies are departmentalized by functional expertise. This has allowed companies to make more efficient use of their limited resources. Such functional structures frequently lead to silo thinking or a myopic attitude. A simple situation is not usually so simple, issues run many levels deep and specialized knowledge does not necessarily mean understanding. Only through cooperation and collaboration will progress be made. Structured events or workshops bring people together, with the same focus, at the same time.

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A Theory and Use For Leaders - Managing

A Theory And Use For Leaders
A Seminar For New Engineering Managers


Several Design Engineers were promoted into managerial roles. These managers were highly skilled in their specialty. Now they were being asked to perform in a role where they had not previously been trained. Leading people presented new challenges. Requiring new references for making decisions.

Some of the new managers were having difficulties transitioning out of a technical leader role to a leader of people. As former Engineers, the managers appreciated having a theory to base their actions. 

The second level manager wanted to provide these new managers with a foundation of leadership concepts and principles to help them become better managers. Something he wished he had been given when he was starting out as an Engineering Manager.

Actions Taken

Created and delivered several four-hour training modules in the theory and practice of management. Content that provided hope and covered new responsibilities of management in the future global economy. Exposing the original thinking and leadership philosophy that spawned many of modern improvement programs:

The Heaviest Losses from Corporate Governance. Lack of knowledge in organizations about:

  • Psychology of people
  • How to interpret and understand data
  • How to work as a system
  • How to create a learning organization

A different view of an organization and its relationships:

  • Within the organization
  • Between the organization and the rest of the world

Simulation of Traditionally Managed Organization and Discussion of Better Practices. Some faulty practices:

  • Quotas, Signs and Exhortations
  • Pay For Performance (merit pay system, bonuses, ranking and rating, MBO)
  • Fear
  • Lack of Pride of Workmanship
  • Dependency on Inspection

Mismanagement of People Leads to Unethical and Ineffective Behavior

  • Competition between individuals & departments
  • Reward for best individual performance
  • Pressure to make numbers
  • Buying on Price Alone
  • Multiple Suppliers

Failure to View the Organization as One system; Failure to Create Consistent Strategy, Policies, and Procedures

  • Interaction of system components
  • Sub-optimization of Corporate Strategy and Policies, contrary to aim
  • Focusing on increasing your share, not increasing the whole
  • Destruction of a system
  • Faulty Decisions Based on Misinterpretation of Figures, and How to Use Performance, Production, and Service Measurements Appropriately

And much more!


At the conclusion of the modules, the second level manager used this common foundation of knowledge to coach and mentor his direct reports more effectively.

Feedback from the group praised the different view of the role of managers from what they had been exposed to in the past. Comments included their personal revelations about ideas that first appears to be contrary to ‘common knowledge’, then makes sense when integrated into a larger picture.


  • The importance of using examples
  • Bringing an intact management team to a common understanding
  • Having a central theme to tie different elements together
  • Overcoming the disruption of variable delivery schedule to continuity

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Tangential Improvement - Manufacturing

Tangential Improvement


A Fortune 100 defense company was a subcontractor producing $10 million dollar main fuselage sections for a large commercial aircraft.


After 10 years and over one hundred deliveries, the aircraft customer was updating the design and increasing production rate. Formerly one fuselage per month - to one per week.

The process improvement team was tasked with selecting and improving areas of work.


With all the focus on reacting to the new work environment, where should a ‘process improvement’ team focus? What core activity affected the widest number of people? What improvement effort would have the biggest effect on schedule and cost?

With over 800,000 rivets installed every week, controlling hole dimension was identified as a core competency.


A representative area was chosen to study how rivet holes were made.

  • Initiate and planned a study of the hole drilling process
  • Negotiate with a supervisor and work crew to participate in the study
  • Verify work processes as designed and as used
  • Track workforce activities and measurements over several shifts
  • Conduct Statistical Process Control (SPC) analysis for variability and capability


No differences in quality (variability, capability, predictability) between individual workers or between shifts

Observation - (not a focus of the original assessment)

What was observed was a difference in the cutting tool longevity. Cutting tools purchased from the manufacturer lasted 5 times longer than re-sharpened drill bits before affecting performance.

Workers were coveting and hording ‘factory fresh’ drill bits. While hiding older, less desirable drill bits.

Re-sharpened was done in-house or at an outside vendor. Wherever the re-sharpening was done, did not make a difference in the life of the tool, or the quality of the holes.


Subsequent investigation found the specification used for re-sharpening of cutting tools was different from the original manufacturer.

Cutting tool specifications were changed to match the manufacturer’s specifications.

Rivet hole rework dropped by 30% and tool life increased, which in turn reduced the frequency of the need for tool re-sharpening. Savings of $1.1 million per year.

Take Away

  • Indirect results can be greater than the primary investigation
  • Core issues can be hidden by “We’ve always done it that way”
  • The value of rigorous investigation and reporting structure

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Value Engineering Workshop - Design Engineering

Value Engineering Workshops

Commercial Design


A commercial division of an aerospace/defense company was having great success with several Process Improvement programs. However, management believed that product design has an even greater effect on reducing the cost to produce. A major Product Cost Improvement program was created.

The corporation had great experiences with Value Engineering in their defense division. However, the commercial group lacked experience with this methodology. Several specialists from the Defense Division transferred into the Commercial Group with the intent of introducing Value Engineering principles into general practice.

Actions Taken

  • Incorporate general business and process improvement methodologies into existing workshops
  • Presentation material was reconfigured and streamlined
  • Terminology modified to appeal to the target audience of specialists in
    • Operations
    • Business
    • Project Management


VE specialists were introduced to process improvement concepts such as LEAN, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and DFM. Connections were made between the principles of various manufacturing process improvement methodologies, business practices, and Value Engineering.


  • Understanding, Trust, and Acceptance are the cornerstones for establishing relationships
  • Importance of using a common language for communication across groups

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Comparing Lean, Six Sigma, & Theory of Constraints - Managing

Comparing Lean, Six Sigma, and Theory of Constraints


A large company had one officially sanctioned process improvement methodology (LEAN) and several un-sanctioned but tolerated practices operating within the organization. Conflict, competition, and infighting over limited resources were common. Great human capital was spent trying to suppress the efforts of other groups.

An ‘after hours’ ad-hoc Systems Thinking Group concluded that no single improvement methodology was complete or robust enough to meet the wide range of needs of the company. What was needed was for the existing factions to work together, with tolerance and cooperation for optimal benefit to the Company. The question was: how?

Actions Taken

Led a study that concluded:

  • That rhetoric needed to be clarified so various concepts would be readily understood by a large and diverse audience
  • An integrated process improvement plan could be shaped by sharing basic principles from multiple methodologies
  • Each methodology would benefit by refining their key fundamental concepts to 6 to 8 main points; with requirements, assumptions and premise for each point
  • Understanding and a consistent improvement process could be created by sharing ‘Theories, Methods, and Tools’ from each methodology -- with examples of application from inside the Company


Inspired by the need of organizations to come to terms with the implementation of various improvement methodologies, an article was written which summarized the pros/cons of several methodologies. The article was submitted to --and published by-- the American Society for Quality in Quality Progress Magazine

How To Compare Six Sigma, Lean and the Theory of Constraints: A Framework for choosing what’s best for your organization, Quality Progress, Vol. 35, No. 3, MARCH 2002, pp. 73-78


  • The importance of Executive sponsorship with ties to strategic initiatives
  • Bringing an outside view to a situation
  • How diverse background and interests connect, and work together

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Corporate Website for Value Management - Managing

Corporate Website for Value Management


A large company was introducing a product design improvement methodology from the defense industry to a commercial division. Several experts were hired or transferred to accomplish this task. Management determined an intranet website was needed, so employees could:

  • Access information, training material, examples, etc.
  • Learn about the concepts and principles available to them
  • Understand the benefits of using Value Engineering principles
  • Have an awareness of how different methodologies in Process Improvement, Product Cost Improvement, and Business Practice related to each other

Actions Taken

  • Interview affected people for purpose and requirements
  • Capture scope and intent – verified with all affected
  • Establish phased plan – develop, test, deploy, refine
  • Assigned tasks – development & programming
  • Negotiate resources
  • Develop and Launch website
  • Review with affected people and users


Launch was smooth, on-time and within budget.

Feedback from various global groups praised the concise descriptions, depth of information provided and the general usefulness of the content.


  • The benefits of a structured plan
  • The importance of personal flexibility and resilience

Special learning: While large corporations provide a vast array of training resources, compiling them into a systemic business approach is extremely complicated.

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A Hit and A Miss - Managing

A Hit and A Miss
When Management Misses the Point


A Fortune 100 defense company was a subcontractor to produce $10million dollar main fuselage sections for a large commercial aircraft.


For over 50 years the company, and the industry in general, had a history of hiring former military personnel to manage their company. That practice brought along the authoritarian ‘command and control’ culture. However, the industry was moving towards a collaborative, teamwork style of management.

After 10 years and over one hundred deliveries, the aircraft customer redesigned the product by add two sections. Production rate was increased from one fuselage per month to one per week. The 2,500 person program was behind schedule and losing $4M per month.

The company was hiring and training new people at a feverish rate. The on-boarding process required several weeks of classroom and hands-on training. However, management determined the need on the production floor was paramount. On a regular basis, new hires were moved to production before training was complete.

However, the rate changed happened faster than production could handle. Large assemblies were being moved before completion.


The Process Improvement group partnered with training and production to isolate one department. Workers were trained ‘in location’, disruptions minimized, shift differences resolved, hand tools were repaired and organized.

Production ‘cell’ began producing on-time with no errors or rework.


Management saw the improvement. Decided they wanted the same results in the other 21 production ‘cells’.

A directive was made to take the production workers from the newly performing cell and disperse them throughout the program.


1) performance of the improved ‘cell’ went back to previous levels.

2) no performance change was seen in the other ‘cells.’


Management must have intimate knowledge of how production works.

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 Dave Nave & Associates 2019   -