In the year 2000 I left this consulting company to join one of the leading simulation modeling engineering firms in California, the Kiran Consulting Group (KCG). My career ambition at the time was to enhance my Lean expertise with the use of simulation modeling tools. It seemed to me that many of the problems we had encountered in the past could have been avoided through the use of computer modeling. Based on my two years of experience with KCG, I was right. But there were two big obstacles to becoming a simulation expert or super-user.
THE TWO MAIN HURDLES TO USING SIMULATION
First is the cost of the software. This is no problem for a large company, but for an individual practitioner it can be a show-stopper. Without mentioning any specific software vendor names, I found that a single license for simulation software ranged from around $2,000 to over $20,000. A bit pricey for a casual user. There’s no blame here: the market for this type of software is small, and the amount of training and support needed is high. If these software companies expect to stay in business, those are the prices they need to charge.
The second obstacle was the learning curve. What I quickly found out was that in order to model reality accurately using simulation software, some computer programming was going to be needed. Getting really good at programming is not a casual endeavor, it’s a 10,000 hour effort. And unless you get really good at programming, using current simulation tools, you’re going to be really inefficient as a simulation expert. So that’s where I was stuck. It would have involved a career change, and the Lean work I was involved in was just too engaging. Until now.
CROSSING TWO HURDLES WITH A SINGLE BOUND
All of this changed in 2012, when I contacted Celal Kaplan at the Kaplan Business Group, a former colleague from KCG, about a simulation project opportunity. We had talked often in the past about the learning curve challenge, and Celal was also an experienced Lean practitioner and PhD in Industrial Engineering. He understood very well the types of simulation models that would be most common in a Mixed Model environment, and he suggested that we use an Excel-based system that he had created. This was a full “discrete event” simulation engine, drawing on data stored in a series of Excel spreadsheets. The advantage: a very short learning curve for the project team, low cost for the software, and also very fast performance. We used this tool on the project, it was a success, and today that Mixed Model line is producing tens of millions of dollars of product every year. And the software tool was then “put on ice”, not being used.
This state of affairs, of having an incredibly valuable tool unused, changed about six months ago, when I proposed the following points to Celal:
In the world of process improvement and Lean, there is a need for professionals with simulation expertise. Super-Users who understand both the data requirements, and how to analyze and use simulation results to improve processes. They don’t need to be programmers.
The expertise required to build highly sophisticated models remains the domain of simulation specialists and experts, but many models are not that complicated, and can be developed by these same Super-Users.
We could partner on the development of a unique and exciting workshop, combining the Mixed Model Line Design methodology that we teach with the use of simulation modeling to test and validate process designs.
We could give the software you developed away for free, as a teaching tool in the workshop. The workshop would have a very high hands-on content, building models and learning how to use simulation for process improvement.
The goal is to enable students to return to their companies as Process Improvement Super-Users, with the hands-on experience and the software tool to design and model high-performing processes. Celal agreed. Click here to find out more about the agenda, location, and course objectives. This is the most exciting Lean learning opportunity we’ve developed in the last 10 years, and I hope you can join us!