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CI Tools

What is a Process Map? When and How you use a Process Map?

Process mapping is a visual way to show the steps to complete a process.  There are different types of maps that range from a very high overview level to a detailed overview level of the process.  Which one you use depends on the purpose of your analysis.   We already discuss the Value Stream Map and today is the turn for the Process Map or detailed process map.

A Process Map (PM) is a basic flow chart that presents the sequence of events to complete a single process, showing all the inputs and outputs.  PM is a low-level chart used with the participation of supervisors and process owners.

When you use a Process Map?

  • The purpose of this map is to document a process, analyze and manage workflows.  
  • You can use this type of map whenever you want to take a close look of a process workflow, focusing on the sequence of steps regardless of who or what department complete them.  
  • The map is a drill-down view of the process, which make it an excellent tool to see the input and output details of the process as well as the decision points.  
  • PMs are good to identify opportunities to eliminate, simplify, rearrange, or combine steps.
  • To create process improvement tactical plans. 

How to draw a Process Map?

  1. This is a team exercise, invite a multi-functional group to draw the map.  Those who provide input or receive the output of the process should be part of it.  
  2. Define the process boundaries.  What triggers the process?  What ends the process?
  3. Use a verb or noun format to list the sequence of steps to complete the process. For example, use, go to, search for, calculate, analyze, verify, and call.
  4. Include mental steps like thinking, analyzing, counting, and others.
  5. Keep asking what happens next, until you reach the end of the process.
  6. Write each step, including the trigger either on a sticky note or directly on a whiteboard.  Choose whatever method works best for you.  I like to use 4 x 6 sticky notes because they are big enough, and it is easier to edit the map if you need to add steps or rearrange them.   Plus, you don’t need a whiteboard, a clean wall will suffice.
  7. Watch for repetitive steps, like going back and forth between screens, copy and paste information on the same document several times.
  8. At the end, go through the map once again to ensure all steps are included.

While drawing the map, promote the participation of the entire group, create a comfortable environment where team members that do not know the process well feel free to ask questions without any fear.  For example, they can help writing the steps or place the notes on the wall or board.  As with any other continuous improvement activity, this is a learning exercise.  Facilitate the event in such a way that people understand the purpose and learn how to do it.  The idea is to promote the use of simple tools that can help them to present their ideas visually or to show the process to other people.

Now you have another tool to analyze your processes, learn how to use it and practice while improving!

CI 101

How to promote lean methods and tools? One of the leadership’s daily responsibilities to create a continuous improvement culture.

For a successful continuous improvement journey, there are five things that leaders have to do daily.

  1. Review job environment and satisfaction
  2. Develop our people first and motivate participation
  3. Demand leadership responsibility
  4. Develop new behavior patterns
  5. Promote lean thinking and insist on following the new methods and tools

I already discuss the first four, and today is the turn for the last one, Promote & Insist on Lean Methods/Tools. One of the leaderships’ responsibilities is to model the new behaviors, like the use of continuous improvement methods and tools.

We know that communication within a CI culture has to be clear, consistent, and collaborative.  The promotion of lean methods and tools need to have the same characteristics.  Leadership has to visit the value-creating area (gemba) every day, and while they are there, use the principles and tools that are appropriate for what they see.  One skill that lean practitioners learn over time is to identify and act upon those learning opportunities that present themselves while visiting the work areas.  Take advantage of every opportunity you can.  

Lean thinking is for every day, every time, in every department, by everybody.  This statement is true even when things are not going as expected.  During those times that things got worse instead of improving is critical to insist on using the CI principles and tools.  Why?  Because that is the moment that the non-believers and road-blockers are waiting for, the time when things are unacceptable and you, back-up from the new culture behavior.

The integrated use of tools like 5s, visual management, gemba walks, huddle meetings, and problem-solving using PDCA is the perfect vehicle to convey the clarity of purpose, transparency, and collaboration needed for a successful implementation.  They also promote standardization, focus on shared goals, effective communication, visualization of current vs. standard, learning, motivation, and engagement.  The best way to promote lean thinking is to accomplish your responsibilities as a leader.  Learning, teaching, and modeling the new behavior day in and day out is how you will do it.  Nobody is perfect, admitting that you don’t know and that you make mistakes is a way to show respect to your team and be a good leader. Show what to do and how to do it. Telling without showing will not be enough.

Home, Productivity

How to design the best home office. Three things that you should do to before you start working on it.

While the country is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of all kinds and sizes are struggling too.  Many people are still working from home, in some cases, permanently.  The idea of having a home office suddenly becomes as good as having enough living space.  During the first couple of months of this emergency, many people were improvising a small space to work.  Now that it is a reality that you will be working from home either part-time or full time, it is time to stop improvising and start “building” your workspace at home.

A workspace should be a space dedicated to work only.  Create the habit of working in this area only and do not leave any work items anywhere outside our workspace.  The ideal situation is to have a separate room but, not everybody has a spare room available.  It is helpful to practice 5S around the house to eliminate clutter and create more space.  You can transform an underutilized area like the guest room, the baseman, or even a corner or a wall in your room or garage.  If you have a nice shed with lighting and insulation, big enough to steal space for your office, that will work too!  

But before you choose the space, there are three things that you need to do, understand and learn the purpose of your office, your needs, and how to maximize productivity.

Understand the purpose, what exactly are you going to do?

Take your time to plan and create your workspace.  Start with the purpose of the area, are you going to work on the computer only, or you will have conference calls?  Any chance of a video conference?  How about visitors?  What do you need from your internet service?  Are you going to use multiple web-based applications, VPN, firewall? Are you going to print or file documents? 

What do you need to accomplish your work?

Once you know the purpose of the area, think about your needs.  What do you need besides the basics like a desk, chair, and computer?  Be aware that I said needs, not wants.  We all want to have a modern, well-equipped office home, but do you need to have all the equipment you have available at your workplace? Create a list of what you need, what type of equipment, storage, cabinets, and others.  Do not forget internet service speed and reliability, electric outlets, and lighting.  Knowing all these things, you can estimate the space you will need.

Create the environment to maximize productivity

After identifying what you need to accomplish the purpose of your home office, you are ready to choose the best space.  Know the area before you start moving or buying stuff to create the office.  Remember that even when you are home, you need to keep your productivity levels.  With that in mind, plan the layout and how you are going to use the space.

Consider some basic ergonomic rules, like the following.

  • The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or a little below. 
  • Position your keyboard so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. 
  • Adjust your chair so that your feet rest on the floor, or a footrest if you’re short.  

While planning the layout or how you are going to organize your equipment, follow these organization rules.

  • Set minimum and maximum limits for office supply items.  
  • Identify the best location for each item based on the frequency of use and ease of access and return.  Most used items go closer to the user.  
  • Incorporate 5S into the area from the beginning, use visual management.  Mark the location and inventory limits of each item visible.  Use color code for your filing system and create signage to communicate to your family that you are busy in a phone call or video conference, have visitors, or in time-out (no interruptions).

Also, use these tips to create an environment for better productivity.

  • Privacy and the appropriate environment to foster concentration and productivity are critical considerations.  
  • Boundaries are necessary to keep separate home and office spaces.  You can use partitions and free stand dividers to create a physical limit.  
  • Also, thick carpets and drapes, bookcases, and plants will help to soundproof the area. 
  • Follow your work routines or create new ones, like getting dressed, work schedule (clock-in and out times), and time for your breaks.
  • To keep focus and feel connection with other humans, you can get out of your home office and work from the library, a co-work office, or a nearby cafe every once in a while.

Create your space and start using it.  If something does not feel right, change it.  The beauty of a home office is that you don’t need to ask for authorization to change things.  If you follow all the steps indicated before, you plan how to create the office, create the office, start using it and identify what did not work to change or adapt them.  You just follow PDCA and 5S as guides to create the best workspace you can.  You can follow these same guidelines if you are in need of creating a space for your home-schooling child.  To create the best workplace at home start with understanding the purpose of the space, know your needs, and design the area to maximize productivity.   

CI 101

What is your guide through your continuous improvement journey? Five basic rules to stay true to the Kaizen spirit.

Guiding Principles for Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  To stay true to the CI spirit and be able to accomplish the goal of delivering customers high-quality value, on-time, and at the lowest possible cost, it is necessary to follow these basic rules.

  1. Create improvements with small daily changes.
  2. The team is the source for most of the improvement ideas.
  3. Incremental improvements are typically cost-effective.
  4. Employees take ownership of the daily improvement process.
  5. Constant feedback and reflection.

By definition, if you are following a continuous improvement program, everybody is pursuing perfection through small changes daily. Every day, everybody should be looking for at least one thing to improve or a problem to solve.  CI is part of everybody’s job, and every day people should be finding a way to correct what is wrong, or make a job easier, or eliminate some waste. These tasks require walking the place where value is created or gemba looking for whatever does not add value to the customer. Your objective is to make the process flow, and for that, you need to know your customer needs.

In a continuous improvement environment, management no longer practices command and control. Leadership does not generate all the ideas anymore. Now they empower their team by involving employees to share their concerns and suggestions and become part of the problem-solving process. Employees work daily with the company processes and know them better than anybody. For that reason, their feedback is valuable, should be seen as gold.

Because they know the processes so well, employees’ ideas are simple and effective solutions.  They are looking to simplify a process, eliminate or combine steps, or change the order, not in terms of adding things.  Leadership and engineers many times complicate things, thinking in high-cost technology solutions that require capital expense.

One of the biggest challenges for a supervisor is to make people change the way they do things.  Breaking with “that is the way we always have done it” is easier when the idea is coming from them.  As a result of involving the team in the daily problem-solving process, they will trust their skills and knowledge more and more.  Soon the team will take ownership of the daily improving process.  

Continuous improvement needs a strong, transparent, and effective communication system.  Communication needs to be clear, honest, consistent, and collaborative.  Open communication that flows both ways, providing constant feedback and reflection.  CI happens within a learning environment where feedback on how things are going and reflecting on the results are as important as clear instructions and expectations.

Follow the continuous improvement basic rules every day, and never stop improving!

CI 101

What do you discuss during a huddle meeting? Tips for effective stand-up meetings.

Huddle meetings have the potential to be the most effective daily meeting you can have.  A properly conducted meeting is focused, full of energy, and accomplish its purpose of providing information, alignment, and motivation to the team.

To achieve the meeting objectives, follow these tips.

  • Respect everybody’s time by doing the meeting on their designated days and times without fail and held to strict time limits.  Do not wait for anyone.
  • Keep the focus, if a particular item is taking too much time, propose a different day and time to discuss it with the appropriate people.  If it is only a two people discussion, suggest finishing it after the meeting.
  • Go around the room, everybody talks and share their priorities within a one to two minutes time limit.
  • Do not allow mobile phone use or any other electronics during the meeting.
  • Use a dedicated room, with its equipment.
  • Keep the energy by having stand-up meetings, this encourage people to get to the point.
  • Choose the best time for the team.  It is common to have the meeting at the beginning of the shift, but right before lunch is an alternative that gives time to complete urgent tasks before.

Continuous improvement is a daily activity focused on quality, cost, and delivery, three elements that are essential to achieve the goal of delivering value to the customer when they need it, with the best quality at the lowest cost.  Following that idea, huddle meetings focused on the same three things, plus safety, which is another way to show respect to our team members.  Like I indicated before, you can customize the meeting to your business needs, but the following are ideas of items that you can include.

  1. What we did well yesterday?  Did we have a wow moment?  Let’s celebrate!
  2. What we could have done better?  Share the situation, reflect on the experience and learnings.  
  3. Top three metrics whose goal was not achieved the previous day.
  4. Announcements like visitors, events, audits, training, or new team members.
  5. Team members updates – something they have to celebrate (even if it is personal), what did they learn the previous day, improvement opportunities, what help they need, their priorities for the day.
  6. Recognition, take time to recognize the good, celebrate collaboration, business milestones, training, and projects completions, and team member birthdays!

It is important to keep the meetings short and dynamic.  This gathering is to strengthen teamwork and collaboration and promote attitudes and actions aligned with the company values.  For that reason, it is critical to stop immediately anything that smells like finger-pointing, blaming, or disrespect. Happy huddle meeting!

CI 101

What is a huddle meeting? What are the benefits?

A stand-up or huddle meeting is a short meeting meant to occur every day to provide information, align, and motivate the team.  This cross-functional meeting is a simple way to keep everybody motivated, working together toward common goals, using the same procedures.  

What is a huddle meeting?

  • A stand-up, pre-shift, or huddle meeting is a short meeting of not more than 10 to 15 minutes.
  • The objective is to provide team members with information regarding priorities, status, and announcements.
  • Other objectives are to keep everybody aligned with the company vision and strategy, develop team member skills, and gives them the forum to voice their concerns, personal priorities, and ideas.
  • The meeting is focused on safety, quality, cost, and delivery.
  • Use visual management tools to ensure the meeting focus and allotted time are achieved.  Examples of those tools are the Management Board and Projects Board.

What is not a huddle meeting?

  • Although problems are briefly discussed, a huddle meeting is not a problem-solving session.  Schedule for a different meeting those items that need deep discussion.
  • This is not a session to report to the boss what is going on.  The conversation is between work colleagues, a chance to talk to each other.

Benefits of a huddle meeting

  • Share the same information to all team members at the same time showing clarity, and transparency.
  • It is the perfect vehicle for alignment, promote the shared vision and discuss common goals.
  • Bring together cross-functional teams
  • Promotes collaboration and teamwork
  • Gives team members the chance to contribute in policy discussion and problem-solving ideas.
  • All team members to share the know-how, to be the subject expert on a topic.

You can adapt the format of the meeting to your business and team size.  Although traditionally a team leader or supervisor is the meeting leader, this does not mean that he or she has to dominate the conversation.  The meeting leader is more a moderator, someone that ensures that the focus and time of the team are achieved.  He or she would step up and ask the team to move on to another subject if they are stuck on one item.  Every day, a different team member can be the meeting facilitator.  The facilitator is responsible for opening the meeting, make it flow, and present the general information.  

Huddle meetings should be every day at the same time, in the same place.  Remote teams can participate via skype, zoom, or any other visual media.  If possible, there should be a room dedicated to this meeting, with no chairs and where the boards are the focal point.  The location should be a strategic place in the middle of the value-creating area, where other people can see what is going on.

What should be the agenda for this meeting?  What can be discussed in 15 minutes or less?  In the next post, I will talk about possible discussion items.  

CI 101, Leadership

How do you show respect to your team? First, show they matter.

Three characteristics of workplaces with toxic environments are disrespect, ineffective communication, and lack of growth.  Those things are the contrary of what lean promotes.   The heart of the Lean system is the people.  Continuous improvement is not about tools, it is about people.   In a successful continuous improvement culture, leadership trusts the team to solve their problems, and that requires much more than training.  

The best way to feel motivated and good about their jobs is to feel leadership’s respect and trust.  Unfortunately, not everybody treats their peers with respect, not in the workplace, not in the street, or in the supermarket.  Considering the turmoil we are living these days between the pandemic and the civil unrest for the double standard in our society, it is worth to list basic ways to show respect.


Show Respect!

Leaders and citizens, we all need to learn how to listen more and talk less and practice compassion.  We need to hold one another accountable, be consistent with our beliefs, driving out fear of speaking up, and trying to do things better.  The workplace is not an isolated island, what happens in our society affect it, and vice versa.  Perhaps, the lean pillar of respect the people can help us to go through these challenging times inside and out of the workplace.  As I learned from Bob Chapman’s TrulyHumanLeadership blog, “To get trust, you have to freely give it.”

CI 101

How is Communication in a Continuous Improvement Culture?

Poor communication affects productivity, quality, customer experience, and costs money.  According to David Grossman, as reported in his article The Cost of Poor Communications, the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding among 400 surveyed corporations in the U.S. and U.K. is $37 billion.  On top of that, many companies spend a good chunk of money every year in communication training.   If poor communication is so critical for the successful operation of any business, can you imagine how critical it is when you are trying to change the culture?  

Clarity of purpose and transparency are critical elements of the lean culture, effective communication is imperative.  To be able to inspire people with a shared vision of the future that the company wants to build using continuous improvement, you need clarity of purpose.  Everybody needs to know and understand how their daily work supports the company’s strategic vision.  To achieve the dramatic change from traditional to a continuous improvement culture, people need to trust.  Trust grows within the organization when transparency exists, and people receive the information they need.  For this, effective communication is an essential ingredient.

As a leader, your job is to communicate, 80% of the time you are communicating instructions, expectations, policies, news, standards, and others.  A leader in a continuous improvement culture is expected to be a role model and a teacher, which are forms of communication.

If you search for effective communication, you will find a lot of resources offering different characteristics and ways to achieve it.  One thing that I learned through my career is that you need to know when and where or how to communicate and to follow the three C’s of effective communication.

Know your audience

One of the best ways to quickly improve the effectiveness of your communication is to adapt your communication style to match your team member’s styles.  Who are you going to communicate with?  You need to know his or her communication style, how do they like to receive the information and the level of detail.  Adapt your vocabulary and examples used to the receiver.  Remember that not everybody understands the same kind of jargon.

Choose the best time to start your conversation.  Do not try to discuss something with a person who is in the middle of an important task.  Show respect, ask for a good time to talk.  Where the communication takes place is also influential. You don’t need a meeting for everything, sometimes a short conversation over a coffee is more than enough.  Other times an email is ok, but always remember that face to face communication is better.  If you choose to send a written communication schedule a follow-up conversation to ensure the message gets through as intended.

The three C’s of effective communication

All types of communication need to have at least these three basic characteristics, clarity, collaboration, and consistency.  

Communication has to be clear and simple, avoid fancy words if they are not critical to convey the message.  It has to be complete but concise to prevent misunderstanding and gives people the information they need.  

Effective communication is a collaborative process, in which two or more people contribute to the talking subject.  Communication is a two-way process where both parties send and receive information.  If you talk without expecting any interaction from the individual(s) you are talking with, you are making an announcement not communicating.  Don’t try to dominate the conversation, give other people a chance to express themselves.

Be consistent, commit to your message and act the same way always.  When your words and actions do not match, you lose trust, and credibility.  

Continuous improvement and lean need effective communication for its success.  Lean is a people-centric system, which means that the way you treat and communicate with the people is critical for success.  In continuous improvement, we want to make the standards and the deviation from them, visible.  We want to communicate the standards and performance against them.  5S, visual management, visual displays, kanban, and others are forms of communication.  They are tools to ensure transparency and keep the clarity of purpose by making the information and standards visible.  

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.