Blog

CI 101, Leadership

10 Ways to help your team to build self-discipline

To achieve a successful continuous improvement culture implementation, leadership needs to Develop new behavior patterns.  Leadership will learn new skills and teach them to the team at the same time, which is a monumental task.  Everybody will have to practice self-discipline to let go of old habits and embrace the new ones.  The heart of the continuous improvement or lean system is a highly flexible and motivated team member that is always improving.  How do you motivate your employees while helping them to create new habits?  Here is a list of ten things you can do to help them to build self-discipline.

  1. Model the new behaviors every day, go to gemba, ask with respect, and always explain why.  Set a good example, teach your team how to do it, be consistent and persistent.  
  2. Foster an environment of respect and collaboration.
  3. Encourage daily improvements, kaizen events, PDCA, and root cause analysis.
  4. Take your time to listen, get to know your team, and become a teacher and a facilitator.
  5. Give feedback often, create a reward system, and a formal performance appraisal program, which includes a real development plan.
  6. Give specific instructions and communicate clear expectations, follow-up, and assess.
  7. Ensure everybody knows what performance metrics are used to measure success and make them visible.  
  8. Conduct daily stand-up or huddle meetings, discuss what we did good, what we can improve.  Celebrate the wins!
  9. Promote customer satisfaction to see the process from customer lenses.
  10. Be present, visit the workplace every day, not just when there are problems.  And when you go, acknowledge the good things your team is doing and come back with at least one improvement idea.

When employees participate daily in housekeeping, small improvement steps, problem-solving, and standards review they start to see the difference from the previous culture and understand the benefits of the continuous improvement culture.  Learning and becoming an integral part of the company’s success are ways to make them feel that their work is meaningful, and you appreciate it.  When leadership is showing them what to do and how to do it they not only learn but start to build trust and discipline to do what is expected.

CI Tools

Gemba Walk, What does “Go see, ask why” mean?

Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho’s words, “Go see, ask why, show respect,” are famous.  They are like a creed for lean practitioners around the world.  Go to gemba, the place where value is created, where the work is done, is one of the core principles of continuous improvement.  Cho’s words are a summary of what going to gemba is.  What do those words mean?

Go See

The purpose of the gemba walk or observation walk is to understand the work and grasp the current situation. A process has three versions, what should happen, what we think happens, and what actually happens.  You will get an understanding of what is happening by observing everything within the area, people, equipment or machine performance, and the work environment.  If you notice any gaps or problems, focus your attention on one at a time.  These are the things you need to see for yourself.

  • What people do, are they following the standards?
  • How people spend their time, how is the work environment?
  • How people move around the work area
  • The workflow, how the product or information flows through.
  • Where the flow stops?  Watch for interruptions and delays.
  • Handoffs between workstations, how the materials, ingredients or information arrives and leaves the station.  

Remember that you are there to understand the situation, not to judge.  All gemba walkers are there to practice observation and active listening.  Focus on the system, quality, cost, and morale.  Look for improvement opportunities. Practice respect while asking questions, let the team shine.

Ask What

Even though Cho’s phrase says, ask why, the first question is what, not why.  What is the purpose of this process, what it intends to achieve?  Only ask why type questions, which are to diagnose, after you understand the process and the current situation.  Ask why there is a gap to the standard, why delays happened, why does rework occur, and others.  Listen to the answers to understand the point of view of the people who do the work, keep learning from them.  The conversation will lead you to a point where you can ask what if.  At this time, you can ask for their ideas, what if you change the method?  

Gemba Walks are a powerful tool to promote the continuous improvement culture or a fast way to kill it!  In a blame-free culture, your associates will be honest, talk freely about their concerns, and share their ideas without problems.  The way you, and your leadership team reacts to comments and concerns, and how diligently you are to facilitate their work and solve their problems will determine how successful these walks are.  As a system, gemba walks supports the scientific method (PDCA) because it is based on actual observation.  

CI 101

What is Big Company Disease? How do you cure that disease?

While business is small, you can see all the way from suppliers to customers.  It is easier to stay in contact and collaborate with them to create innovation and mutual processes improvements and growth.  Once the company grows to a certain size, they are vulnerable to the Big Company Disease (BCD).

When the company grows big enough, it needs to create departments and systems to handle things that are handled previously by a few people.  With more employees within those departments, it comes more specialists.  These specialists are focus on one or two things and lose sight of everything else.  If each of those departments has different goals, the shared vision, alignment, and common focus will slightly disappear until they are gone, and silos are born.

Once the silos culture starts, it is hard to change.  Each team has its own set of priorities, and all their activities revolved around them.  Win or lose is defined by their performance around those priorities and goals, lacking alignment with other groups.  Each is pulling to their side, holding information, working with the knowledge of one side of the story only, and blaming others for their problems.  Providing value to their customers with the best quality at the lowest price is no longer a team goal.  

If you see these symptoms on the company you manage or own, it is already infected with BCD.

Silos

Focus on group efficiency and department goals.  The relationship between departments is complicated and full of drama.  Instead of working together to solve problems and improve the operation, there is an attitude of We vs. Them.  Pointing fingers and blaming is part of the culture, and it is common to hear things like “We do things different” or “They never understand”.   

Disengaging people

The energy, passion, and family feeling from the small business times are gone.  Without that energy and desire to be better, innovation and drive to try different and bold things are not there.  The employees don’t feel the same level of loyalty, and some are disengaged.  There is no team or group identity.  

Ineffective communication

Managers and supervisors are information hoarders, only share it when they are questions or specific instructions to do so by leadership.   However, excess emails and multiple lengthy meetings overwhelm people at all levels.  

Lack of alignment

The lack of companywide focus affects the relationship with customers.  Everybody is busy fighting their fires, which makes them lose touch with customers and suppliers.   There is no alignment on critical things for the operation success like communication style, visual standards, and work instructions formats, training, problem-solving methods, and way of thinking.  All these create a complex decision-making process, multiple rules, duplicated functions, and focus on the wrong things.

The cure for BCD is to apply the Lean Fundamentals.  

  1. Customer Value 
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate waste.
  3. Make the value-add steps flow.
  4. Let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. Pursuit for perfection through Continuous Improvement.

When the company applies the Lean Fundamentals, leadership learn, teach, and promote the basic principles every day. Every person, in every department, participates in daily continuous improvement activities, identifying and eliminating waste, and using PDCA for problem-solving.  Leadership identifies learning opportunities and never lose the chance to have people from different departments working together.  Everybody knows what value their work creates for the customer and how it affects the company’s overall business strategy.  They also know the collective goals and work with their peers from other departments towards its achievement.  Lean is about learning and experimenting together while the company grows and fights big company disease.  

Home, Time Management

How do you plan your days? What journal or agenda is the best to increase productivity?

Personal organization is as critical for success as the workplace organization is.  Being organized helps improve time management, which increases productivity.  There are so many electronic and hard-copy planners and agendas on the market to help you to organize your tasks and meetings, that it is easy to be confused.  I goggle planners, and I got 520 million results!  There are generic planners, customized, different sizes, colors, and formats.  They can be daily, weekly, or monthly.  Some are specific for projects, marketing, blogging, personal items, academics, and others.  Journals, agendas, or planners need to work for you if you work fine with any of those on the market fine, but if not, this article is for you.

Through the years, I used almost every planner or journal on the market while looking for my perfect match. I needed a system to plan, execute, and follow-up on my personal and business goals and projects.  I hated those planners with tight formats.  They pretend that every day, week, and month are the same!  You have plenty of space to write every task, meeting, and activity to the hour, but little to no space to write your thoughts or ideas.  You either end with a bunch of empty lines (which is waste) or give up on your attempt to organize your life.  The third option is to persevere, observe, learn, and design the system that works for you.  That is what I did.

Years ago, I learned about the Bullet Journal Method, created by Ryder Carroll.  His book, The Bullet Journal Method:  Track the Past, order the present, design the future, is an international best-seller.   The official web page describes the method as the mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. For me, the best part was that finally, I had a tool that I can customize my way, that gave me total control of what I want to include, or not, how many pages I want or need for this week, or even be creative and write quotes, make drawings, or put a fun sticker here and there.  I could use the very formal, very bore classic black ink or as many colors as I want.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, I have been experimenting with different formats for years.  My goal is to have a planner-journal to keep me organized, productive, and mentally sane.  I managed to combine my entire self in one book, my personal life with bills payment included along with my business goals tasks and projects.  I have a very colorful, organized, and informative book that is as diverse as I am.  It works because I created a process to work with it, a standard that, if I follow, is effective to guide me through my days and help to plan, execute, follow-up, study, and redesign my tasks, projects, and goals from dream to accomplishment.

I start with my goals divided by quarters or by months.  That is my baseline for projects and other activities because it ensures alignment between goals and tasks.  Every month I listed my tasks, events, confirmed projects or contracts, personal appointments, and others.  Some of these goals come from my business plan and others from projects.  I allocated each entry within a specific week of the month.  At the beginning of every week, I will revise the corresponding list to add or delete items.  I decide which weekday I will work on each of those items.  Be realistic about the number of tasks you assign for a day, count with interruptions, unexpected meetings or phone calls, and things that don’t go as planned.  I found that my weekly tasks list is no more than six items, one for each day plus one, just in case I can get ahead.

You can create your system and design your agenda too.  Start with a plain, cheap school notebook, and draw whatever you want your agenda to be.  If you don’t like it, tomorrow create something else.  It took me years to get to a point where I feel good with what I have, but as a CI student and practitioner, I know that I will change it sooner or later.  The best planner or agenda, it the one that works for you! Do not give up, keep trying until you find the right one.

CI Tools

What is a gemba walk? What are the benefits of doing a gemba walk?

A gemba walk is defined as the act of going to see gemba, the place where the process happens, and value is created.   During the walk, you will do the following.

Go See

The purpose of the walk is to understand the work and grasp the entire situation.  The associates must know the goal of your visit.  Let them know that you are there to improve a process or understand a problem, not to evaluate the people’s performance.  Go to the area and observe what is going on, observe to understand, not to judge.

Ask What

The second piece to gain understanding is to talk with the people who do the work.  Understand the situation better by asking open-ended questions.  Always ask what first, then why.

Show Respect

You are visiting the workplace of your team, their home for eight or more hours, respect them, and their second home.  Sometimes the following ways to show respect are ignored.  Do not judge, or make questions that can lead to blaming a person or department.  Listen more than you talk and do not give up the answer, let the associates learn and shine while explaining concepts and ideas that they master, not you.  Helping people to develop their skills and raise their self-esteem is a great way to show respect.

Benefits of the Gemba Walks

  • Learn about the process and the challenges associated to it, see what is really happening
  • Get facts to find the answer to a problem, or potential ideas to improve the process.
  • Develop the skills or your team, and other associates by coaching them on how to get facts using direct observation and the scientific or critical thinking (PDCA) to solve problems
  • Drive alignment inside the organization by modeling behaviors and communicating expectations.

Gemba or observation walks are a great tool to develop your team skills.  Do not waste the chance to show how much you appreciate and care about your team by not acting with respect.  Leaders must show respect at all times.  These walks are a great tool to complement the continuous improvement journey by supporting the culture change and providing focus and follow-up to what is important.

CI 101

What activities are critical to achieve the Kaizen goals? Employee involvement is key.

The focus of kaizen is quality, cost, and delivery.  To accomplish improvements in those areas there are a few activities that should take place on a daily basis.  Some of those activities are quality and safety management, cost and logistics management, and processes, products, and materials follow-up.  Other daily activities are the major Kaizen activities or pillars which are standardization, 5S, and waste elimination.

Kaizen or continuous improvement is a people’s based system.  It only works when there is active participation from the employees.  If you forget that the people are the heart of the lean-continuous improvement system, all efforts to implement kaizen as part of the culture will be in vain.

The activities mentioned in the first paragraph will be successful only if the company has a solid foundation of employee involvement elements or systems.  Those are teamwork, self-discipline, improvement suggestions, morale enhancement, and quality circles.

Respect is one of the most important principles of lean.  One way to show respect is by taking the time to develop the team’s skills.  They deserve to have learning opportunities to learn and practice. Kaizen focuses on hands-on activities rather than classroom instruction. In other words, it is an exercise of learning by doing. Continuous improvement uses a team approach, with people from different departments and organizational levels working together towards a common goal.  While working together, they learn new skills and acquire self-discipline together.  They also get to know each other as people, gaining an understanding of their differences, and building upon them.

These type of activities increases collaboration, engagement, and morale.  When learning and coaching are based on respect and genuine desire to develop the team skills to increase their knowledge and empower them with some decisions, the base or foundation for continuous improvement is solid.  Employee involvement activities are critical to achieving improvement goals in the areas of quality, cost, and delivery.

CI Tools

What are the steps to complete a root cause analysis? Guide for beginners.

Root cause analysis is a structured process designed to find what, how, and why an event occurred.  Only when you know the answer to these questions, you will be able to determine the corrective measures to prevent a recurrence. 

A root cause is an underlying cause that management has control to fix, and recurrence prevention is possible by the application of effective recommendations.  RCA drills deeper than symptoms to find the underlying action and conditions that led to the undesired situation.  The goal of RCA is to identify one or two reasons that, if corrected, will reduce recurrence.  RCA has four general steps.

Understand the problem

Understanding why an event occurred is critical for effective corrective actions.  Just as with PDCA, problem definition is the most important part of the RCA process.  Use a team approach whenever it is possible.  It depends on the nature of the problem, but multiple heads are better than one.  Get the background of the current situation and state the problem in clear, concise terms. 

Common errors in describing problems are stating a solution in the problem statement, blaming others, and vague problem statements.

Collect data

When you understand the problem, it is easier to identify what type of data you need to find the root cause.  Gathering data is a vital part of the analysis, and it consumes quite some time.  Go where the action or process happens, where the value is created and observe.  Talk with the people who work there and ask questions to understand the situation.  Be respectful, listen to carefully, and take notes.  Make sure that you do not judge or criticize.  The purpose of your visit is to understand the current process and get information to determine what kind of data is needed.  

Using a team approach, decide what data you will collect, when, how, who will do it, and by when.  Some examples are inspection records, maintenance logs, work instructions, customer complaints, time studies, and process flow charts.

Find the root cause

Now you have all the details and, there are no guessing or loose ends.  Analyze the information,  look for clues that would explain the incident.  Try to find trends or common circumstances every time the problem occurs.  Tools like the fishbone, 5 Why, Mind Map, and Pareto Analysis facilitate this process. 

Plan creation and execution

You are looking for one or two causes that, corrected, will prevent the problem from occurring.  If you have more, it means that you need to keep digging to find the underlying cause.

Once you have it, generate ideas or solutions for the problem.  Ask what preventive actions will stop the event from happening.  Evaluate and prioritize those ideas.  The recommendation should directly address the root causes identified.  Use PDCA to guide you through the plan and execution process.

The four steps presented above are the general steps to complete a root cause analysis.  Each of them has more details and how-to information.  Follow the blog to keep learning about problem-solving, RCA, and how to use for continuous improvement.

CI Tools

Do you want to boost your team creativity? Use and teach PDCA.

Employees are used to following instructions, if they have a problem, they call the boss and wait for instructions.  When you start the continuous improvement journey, you will empower them to find solutions for their daily issues.  The first time you tell them that they will look at you with disbelief, and the next couple of weeks, and months they will wait for your change in opinion.

Why do they react that way?  First, because after years of not-thinking and waiting for others to solve some problems while they know the solutions seem unreal.  The second reason is fear of what can happen to them if they messed up.  But, by using PDCA and teaching them how to use it, you are going to help them to learn a standard way to solve problems.  PDCA is a guide, a standard of the thinking process to solve a problem.  

When you participate with the team on the problem-solving process using PDCA, they learn and start to trust this new tool.  Because most of the time, the first solution is not the right one, they also learn that it is ok to make mistakes.   When you react to those mistakes by reflecting on the lessons learned and adjusting the plan based on those learnings, they notice it and gain the confidence to do the same.  If you consistently follow that pattern, you will be developing trust, which is critical for a continuous improvement culture.

PDCA is not only the standard to solve problems, but a way to boost their creativity by unleashing their ideas in a controlled test environment.  Over time, they learn more about how to use the tool, but also about how thinking without limits, about new and creative ways to solve problems, and improve their processes.  When that happens, you will be the one in disbelief, asking yourself why you did not start doing this before. 

CI 101

How do you develop new behaviors while creating a continuous improvement culture?

As a business owner or top leader of a company, you are thinking about implementing continuous improvement.  This means that you will need a culture change.  To learn how leadership and the team will react to it, you need to understand a few things before.  You need to learn about the current culture and the company history regarding policies, salary systems, and politics, before planning the implementation.  That information will also help you to identify what needs to change and highlight the challenges to create a new culture.  Develop new behavior patterns, is the fourth action from the top leadership to-do list to achieve the elements of a successful CI implementation.  

Commonly, past collective experience is based on thoughts and behaviors that you need to change.  A culture based on disrespect, lack of appreciation, lack of clarity, dysfunctional competition, us versus them mentality, and values talk without action is no longer acceptable.

We need to guide people with a clear, inspiring, and shared vision of the future.  Continuous improvement is not easy, and although it has many sweet rewards, it also has disappointments and brings some failures as well.  Be honest about the challenges in front of them, answer their questions, and never back up from the objective.  Talk the talk, but most importantly, walk the talk, a voice without action will not do any good to gain the trust of your employees.

Leadership must become coaches who are communicating the idea of continuous improvement all the time.  Every leaders’ responsibility is to model the desired behaviors.  Learn and practice lean thinking and promote challenging the status quo.  Prove with actions that it is ok to try and fail as long as you never stop trying.  Show them how to test new ideas using a system like PDCA.  Get used to reflect upon every win, and every loss, share the lesson learned and use them to improve the improvement process.

Leaders should watch for stress reactions, such as threats, resignation, or illness.  They need to work with those affected to understand why and create an action plan.  It is normal to feel high levels of stress or fear because the team is still weighing if they can trust the new culture.  There are many uncertainties during the change, and for that reason, constant, honest, and effective communication is critical.

Set achievable milestones, prioritization, and practice positive feedback.  Develop a fair performance assessment program designed to develop people’s skills and not to punish them.  Avoid anything that can result in frustration or underutilization of individuals. 

As I said before, as long as leadership keeps fulfilling their continuous improvement responsibilities, implementation will keep going and slowly, but surely, the culture will change.  

CI 101, CI Tools

What are the three pillars of Kaizen?

Kaizen or continuous improvement is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  Kaizen’s pillars or major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.

Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.  For these reasons, standards are the basis for both maintenance and improvement

Misaaki Imai

Housekeeping and 5S are basic activities for any continuous improvement effort.  Employees acquire self-discipline by practicing 5S daily.  Without discipline, it is impossible to sustain a continuous improvement culture.  The 5S purpose is to create a visual workplace.  The objective is to make problems visible, which is quite uncomfortable.  It is normal to try to hide problems to avoid undesired questions from the boss or dealing with them.  5S and visual management make the out-of-standard situation easy to recognize, and employees can easily correct it.

When we fail to achieve the expected results, it is because the process fails.  Many times, it fails because there is no standard.  Each individual has a way to do things.  Standard work is the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.  The best way to achieve consistent results and minimize mistakes is to follow the standard work.  

To improve the results, we have to improve the process.  But we need to have standards in place before we try to improve it.  That is why standardization is one of the earlier steps on the lean journey.  Visual management is a way to standardize, it helps to recognize defects, inventory, waiting times, and other types of waste.  Waste elimination is a cost-effective way to improve processes and reduce operating costs.

The first steps on the lean journey are to stabilize the process, create standards, and visual management.  Process stabilization is achieved by practicing 5S and waste identification.  Standards produce a clear image of the desired condition.  You cannot fix what you don’t see. By making conditions out of standard visible, 5S, standards, and waste elimination are the pillars of kaizen or continuous improvement.