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CI 101

Do you still think that continuous improvement is not for you?

Some companies have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic much better than others, at least for now.  Over the past few weeks, I have seen and shared through my Twitter and Facebook accounts examples of how lean companies have handled the crisis.  The common denominator for all of them is they keep the focus on the same things, people, and customers.  They also use different continuous improvement tools to learn and adapt to the new normal in record times.  How did they do that?  Using lean thinking and not taking their eyes from the basic principles.

The term “lean thinking” was coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, it is used to describe the process of making business decisions based on the Lean Principles.  Womack and Jones book, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation presented and talked in detail about those principles. 

  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. Continuous Improvement 

Since the first principle is to define value from the customer point of view, it is logical to start the crisis response looking at how value changed for internal and external customers.  As a leader, you are responsible for your employee’s health and well-being while they are working.  To provide a safer possible workplace, revise the value stream to identify how it needs to change, how the flow will be affected and corrected, and finally implement the changes.  While doing this, keep the communication with your employees and customers to make sure that you are adapting to their new needs and priorities.

Improving the process is an activity that never stops.  Every day new information comes out that makes it necessary to change something on the process.  Lean companies can face this challenge easier than others because they developed people to become problem-solvers. They focus on the problem cause and possible solutions using PDCA, 5 Why, and other tools.  It is better to have an army of problem-solvers than just a few people, or worst, just you.   

The heart of the lean system is people involvement, a highly motivated team continuously seeking the best way.  To keep the heart healthy, you need to maintain a respectful, free of blame, and honest work environment where the team feels they are being cared for, and their feelings and ideas matter.

I don’t know if lean or continuous improvement is the antidote against the economic crisis, we are living in.  Based on my experience, I know that it is better than traditional management, and it works for any industry, of any size.  Industries with a small profit margin, like restaurants, will benefit from this type of thinking more than anyone.  Changing the decision-making process and how you conduct business is a better route to become profitable and flexible.  

If you keep doing what you always did, you will get what you always got. Henry Ford

CI Tools

What is 5 Why analysis? How to use 5 Why and Fishbone diagram for root cause analysis.

One of my favorite tools for root cause analysis is 5 Why.  I like it because it is simple, and you can use it anywhere, and for any situation.  You don’t need to do complicated analysis, take notes or draw anything, you only need to keep your brain asking why until you find the root cause for the problem.  It is also very helpful to see the relationship between different causes. 

This tool is simple but requires practice.  The number of times you ask why depends on each particular situation; five it is not a number written on stone.  If you stop asking why too soon, you will end up far away from the real root cause and asking too many times result in complaints or non-sense answers.

Most of the time the root cause of a problem falls into one of these categories

  1. No standard or inadequate standard
  2. Not following the standard
  3. Inadequate system or equipment

These are the steps to do a Five Why analysis.

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Start describing the problem using all details from the problem definition.
  3. Ask why the problem happens, this is the answer to your first why.
  4. If the answer does not identify the root cause, ask why again.  This is the answer to this why.
  5. Keep repeating the fourth step until you identify the root cause.

My last post was about fishbone, another tool that I used very often.  I like to use it to explore all possible causes because it helps to force people to think beyond the obvious reasons.  Once you complete the cause and effect diagram, you should end up with one or two causes.  At this point, you can use the 5 Whys to drill down the root causes.  

The fishbone I used is from an analysis completed in a food manufacturing plant.  We were looking for the cause of getting excess oil in the body of cans containing oil products.  The fishbone analysis results in two possible causes, both of them related to the equipment used to wash the cans.  The causes were the alignment of the detergent nozzles and the quantity of soap dispensed.  We used the 5 Whys to determine the root cause of each, and we find that the reason was that there was no standard for the setting of the equipment.

Most of the time, when a problem happens, the first thing you see is a symptom.  In this example, the symptom was oily cans.  Without root cause analysis, most probably we would stop at insufficient training, but with fishbone and 5 Why we were able to drill down to the ugly truth, a standard was never established.

Now you have two simple and effective tools to use to find the root cause of a problem.  Practice PDCA and use these tools for RCA, you will see the difference between traditional and lean problem-solving.

CI Tools

What is the fishbone diagram? Problem-solving using the cause and effect analysis to find the root cause.

Problem-solving is the process of finding a solution to a problem.  ASQ defines problem-solving as the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.  It sounds complicated, and it is complicated.  After all, we are looking for an often-elusive solution for complicated and recurrent problems.

There are various problem-solving methodologies, PDCA, DMAIC, 8D, and others.  The effectiveness of all of them depends on the definition of the problem and finding its root cause.  Tools like fishbone analysis, or the 5 Why facilitates the process to find the root cause.

Today, I will focus on the tool commonly known as the fishbone diagram, but it is also known as Ishikawa Analysis or Cause & Effect diagram.  The diagram looks like a fishbone, with the problem description at the head and five categories as bones attached to the fish backbone.  The categories are the five M’s; material, manning or personnel, method or process, measurements, machine, or equipment.  Some people add a sixth category, environment, or mother nature.

The steps to complete the Ishikawa analysis are the following.

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Identify the major factors or categories, you can use your categories, or some of the general categories indicated above.
  3. Brainstorm possible causes with the team
  4. For each cause identified, continue to ask “why” that happens and attach that information as another bone of the category branch. You can see an example in the fishbone above, in the category machine.
  5. Construct the actual diagram
  6. Analyze to find the most basic causes of the problem, look for causes that appear repeatedly.
  7. Reach team consensus

The goal of RCA is to identify one or two reasons, that, if corrected will reduce recurrence.  The rule of thumb is that if there are three or more root causes, you can assume the root cause has not yet been found, and you need additional investigation.  In summary, keep digging!

CI 101

Standardization and problems, how to create standard work to reduce problems?

In continuous improvement, we define a problem as a deviation from the standard.  That is a difference between what should be happening and what is actually happening.  That gap is a problem.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.

But what happens when there are no standards?  How do you know that you have a problem?  Normally you know because a situation that does not feel right is jumping at you, other times those situations are screaming at you.  Those screams are usually in the form of complaints, delays, errors, or performance variation.  How do you choose where to start?

There are different prioritization criteria that you can use to determine what process you will tackle first.  You can choose the process based on volume, the effect it has on the problem you are looking at, or how much influence it has over the cost of operation.  If you never create a standard before, my advice is to start with a small process.  This will give you the chance to learn the basics before digging into a bigger problem.

The development of a standard begins with the problem we are trying to solve.  What is the target condition?  What should be happening?  What can you do to ensure you met the target condition every time?  Do not try to set your current process as the standard, if you have problems it is obvious that the current process needs improvements.  That is why you need to understand the current situation, find the root cause of the problems, and improve the current process before creating standard work.  In general, the following are the steps to create standard work.

  1. Understand the process, break down the job & question every detail
  2. Develop a new method for performing the job
  3. Run the process and observe results
  4. If it is necessary, adapt the process and go back to step 4.
  5. When you find the best method, create the standard

Standard work does not make any good if it is not communicated.  For that reason, training is the next logical step.  While creating the standard, engage the help of some members of the team.  They have the knowledge and experience that will facilitate the creation of the standard.  Also, this would be a teaching opportunity to develop their skills.  Train supervisors, team leaders, and other members of the team.  Use visual management if it is possible and have the standard work available for reference.

Now that you have standard work for that process, identify the next process, and keep improving.  Standard work is the foundation for improvements, they provide the baseline to process improvements.  Once established, stabilized it, and improve it!

CI Tools, Team Development

Do you know the characteristics of standard work?

Standard Work (SW) is a simple written description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task. Once established, it becomes the only acceptable way to do the process it describes.  Effective documentation and training are key to standard work success.  Use a template to ensure that all the standard work or work instructions look and contain the same parts or components.  

The three components 

  • Job sequence to complete the job
  • The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand (takt time)
  • The standard amount of work in process inventory

Relevant information to include with the job sequence   

  • Key points related to anything that can make or break the job
    • Information that addresses safety issues or risks
    • Instructions or knowledge that help performance such as, what makes the job easier or ensure quality.  
  • Explains why the step is important

Characteristics of effective work instructions

  • Simple and clear, easy to understand by everybody.  
  • Complete, but concise, it shows the steps to complete the job and other relevant information. 
  • Accurate, the document reflects the current process.    
  • Concise, it contains important information only.

A work instruction is not effective, regardless of how good the document is if the training is not adequate.  If your idea of training is to bring a group of people to a room to read the work instruction, you should rethink the training method.  How effective do you think this type of training is?  How can you be sure that everybody understood the instructions?  

The work instruction by itself is not a training tool, it needs to be supported by other teaching methods.  To be effective, the instructor should tell and show how to do the job.  The following are some general guidelines. 

  • Demonstrate the job step by step while explaining the key points and why things are done a certain way.  
  • Repeat the steps as many times as you think it is necessary before asking the employee to try.
  • Observe the employee doing the job.
  • Ask to explain the key concepts and whys, make sure they understand.   
  • Follow-up on their performance, observe and correct if it is necessary.  
  • Create a safe and respectful environment.  
  • Make sure they know who to ask if they have doubts or find a problem.  
  • Check-in with the employee often, until you are completely sure that he/she understands the job.

Many organizations fail to implement standard work.  As a result, perceived gains through Kaizen may be lost over time, and the status quo prevails.  The standard work is not set in stone, it is the baseline for continuous improvement.  When the process change, the standard work is updated.

Standard work is important to ensure everybody follows the same guidelines, and the process is stable. That way, the customer will consistently receive their product or service on time, with the best quality, and at the lower possible cost.

CI 101

How do I prepare to reopen my business?

We are preparing to return to some kind of normalcy in our lives, including reopening our businesses. When we open the doors, the business situation will be very different from what it was before the pandemic crisis began.  You had a vision for your business and a plan to drive you there, but now everything is different.

It is time to sit down and reflect on the future.  The starting point will be to understand the challenges that are coming right to us.  With the help of your team, answer the questions below and then update your business plan.  Things like the sales forecasts, costs, and other assumptions will change.

  1. Reopening implies changes, what needs to change in your operation?  
  2. Do you need to invest in protective equipment, such as acrylic panels or floor markings? 
  3. What new recurrent costs you will have to fulfill new safety requirements?  
  4. How the market will change?  
  5. Do your customers would need something different? 
  6. Does your value proposition need to change?  

After adapting the business plan to the new environment, establish your new objectives and strategy.  Rethink your business strategy carefully, how you guide your decision-making process from now on can be your competitive advantage. 

Your business plan is your guide to the future you envision, but you also need short-term plans to prepare the operation for the new requirements.  What processes have to change?  Do you need to implement new processes to ensure your team and customers’ safety?  Does the work area need changes to adapt to social distancing?  How will you control traffic and flow?  

Many tools will help you to analyze, design and test solutions, PDCA is one of them.  To ensure everybody does the same thing standard work and visual management are important.  Sometimes there is no time for a long analysis, but you can still practice continuous improvement.  If you are not doing it already, build the habit to have daily meetings with your staff.  We call them stand-up meetings, or daily huddles.  

During them the team do a quick review of the operation the day before.  The key here is to ask two important questions, what went well and what needs improvement.  You want to discover the reason for the gap between desired and current state.  A quick 5 Why discussion can lead to simple solutions that can be implemented during the shift.  

From now on, the way to conduct business should be different.  This is the time to prepare yourself and your business for the future.  Given how fast everything changes with the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of the future demands good leadership, employees and leaders engaged in common goals and flexibility.  Continuous improvement and lean thinking promote that kind of behaviors. 

Focus on the things you can control, take a deep breath and start creating your future.  Be safe, stay well.

CI Tools

Do you really want to go back to normal? Business as usual, will not going to cut it anymore.

These days you can hear the phrase when we go back to normal, dozens of times a day.  We all want to return to our normal lives, right?

As a lean practitioner, I believe that each event is a learning opportunity, the coronavirus pandemic is no different.  During these slower days, there is time to learn new things and plan for the future.  Lean is all about learning, experimenting, and adapting.  That is just what everybody needs to learn now.  Every day I read about how people are adapting to the new normal, and many are using lean or continuous improvement thinking without knowing it.  For me, at this moment, Lean style problem solving is the on-demand skill.

I am not the only one that thinks that way.  Last year, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), published Indiana’s Employability Skills Benchmarks.  It describes a set of 18 workplace skills recommended for success in today’s competitive workforce.  One of the skills identified in the learning strategies category is problem-solving.  

The way each business adapts the operation to comply with the CDC guidelines is unique.   The solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and on top of that, those guidelines change as they gathered more information.   Learning how to use a systematic process like PDCA and apply lean thinking is critical to identify and implement the new operational guidelines for your business.  

This situation catches most people without the skills to learn and adapt, but it is never late to start.  You are on time to start using lean thinking to approach the current challenges.  With practice, you can build that muscle memory that will guide you through times like this.  The new normal then should be something better than before the coronavirus pandemic.  It is like when you create the future state value-stream-map, imagine a better and stronger business and plan how to make it happen!  Many will go back to business as usual, your competitive advantage will be your new way to do business.

Better Process Solutions can help you to start designing your new processes, get in touch!

Leadership

How do you show your team that you care?

The heart of any business is the employees. Regardless of your experience and skills, they determine your business success. The most prosperous companies recognize that and transform their operations to be people-centric.

We know that when you take care of your team, your team takes care of your customers. The only way to deliver the highest quality of service at the lowest cost is by taking care of the heart of your business. What does it mean to take care of your people? As a leader, one of your top responsibilities is your development and the development of your people. It is like the oxygen mask on the airplanes, you need to put yours first, and then you can help others.

How is it to be a good leader? Good leaders have excellent communication skills and listen without judging. Also, they are grateful to their team and help their people to be successful. They see not only the employee but the human being. Respect people and have open and honest conversations.

The best way to show respect is by treating people like human beings and not as machines. Understand their needs and create an environment to help them succeed. Build high-trust relationships and drive out fear. Encourage teamwork, learning, and participation in improvement activities. When people have the chance to change their work conditions and learn problem-solving and other techniques, they feel appreciated and respected.

Caring about your employees is not only to provide good pay and benefits. It is about providing the opportunities and the environment to learn, grow, and feel that they are capable of making meaningful contributions. In times of coronavirus be a leader is more challenging than ever, but the focus is the same, always put the people first. I talked more about how to be a leader in the times of coronavirus, in this other article.

CI Tools

What is a value stream map?

The value stream is all the steps required to bring a product or service from order to delivery.  A value stream map (VSM) represents the flow of materials and information through that path.  This type of process map is a storyboard of how the work moves from request to receipt.  It represents a great tool to understand the current condition or state and identify improvement opportunities.  The goal is to identify and eliminate waste within and between processes.  

What makes the VSM unique is that shows the flow of all the high-level steps, allowing to see the entire value stream, how it works, and how value is delivered to the customer.  The customer is front and center while drawing the value stream, providing a clear line of sight to the external customer.  

The first two steps for Strategic Planning are to establish the Vision after assessing the current state and develop breakthrough objectives.  With the Value Steam Map, we easily see those areas where the flow stops, making it an effective instrument to understand the current environment. The improvement opportunities are the non-value-added steps, and those points the flow stop.  The future state map deploys the opportunities for improvement identified in the current-state map to achieve a higher level of performance.  This high-level of performance would be part of the strategic plan breakthrough objectives. 

A detailed explanation of how to create a VSM is beyond my scope but this how it looks.  A VSM has three parts, the information flow, the product flow, and the timeline.  

Value Stream Map Example

Before drawing the current state, it is important to go to gemba, where the action happens, to observe the processes and gathered information.  VSM uses a set of symbols or icons to represent a process, inventory, outside sources, transportation, information, and others.  The customer data box is the first thing you draw while doing value stream mapping, and it contains the daily requirements.  It also shows how the information flows from the customer to your facility, using different types of arrows for manual or electronic information. The sequenced process boxes represent product flow, and the data boxes under each contain relevant metrics, like the number of staff, process time, and lead time.  Between processes, you can add any work in process inventory.  Under them, it goes the timeline, which shows the lead time and the processing time.  Also, you can highlight non-value-added activities, to make sure that you see them as improvement opportunities.

Once completed, this map speaks to you.  You will see where the flow stops, where you have more inventory or more delays.  In the future state map, you will highlight those opportunities identifying them with the kaizen burst symbol.  Those are future kaizen or continuous improvement events.  

To improve flow, you will remove or minimize handoffs, rework, work in process, motion, transportation, batches, and other sources of waste.  You can also implement standardization, balance work, and improve quality.  

The last step of the VSM process is to create an improvement plan. Tie each item, long-term and short-term, to an objective of your improvement strategy.  

During the implementation of the strategic plan, continuous improvement events will lead the way.  These events are the part that says how to achieve the desired results.  The frequency of doing VSM can go anywhere from three to six months to a year.  Shorter times are better to drive action.

Value stream mapping is an excellent tool to analyze the current state of a value stream, which is the sequence of steps from request to delivery and design of the future state.  VSM is a strategic tool, while process mapping is a tactical tool.  Are you ready to work on your new strategy?

CI Tools

What is strategy deployment (and why it is vital now)?

A strategy establishes the framework to make decisions, how to conduct business, deliver value to your customers, and achieve target revenues and profits. Strategic planning answers the question, where are we going, and how do we get there?

Hoshin planning or hoshin kanri means strategic policy deployment. It is a process to identify the strategy to follow, develop the objectives, communicate, and execute the plan. Hoshin is one of the various methodologies for strategic planning that emerge from Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives (MBO). Some of the characteristics of Hoshin are that plans at different timeframes, from short-term to long-term, use PDCA and SMART goals, and establish periodic reviews to assess performance against the plan. In general, Hoshin planning has seven steps.

  1. Assess the current state and establish the Vision
  2. Develop breakthrough objectives
  3. Develop annual objectives
  4. Deploy annual objectives
  5. Implement annual objectives
  6. Monthly and quarterly review
  7. Annual review

Strategy deployment address critical business needs by aligning the goals with its strategy and the company resources at all levels. This alignment makes it possible to respond quickly to changes in the business environment. The use of the PDCA cycle brings into the mix a structure to deal with those changes. It provides a framework to identify and solve the problem.

Hoshin develops the skills and capabilities of the team by engaging them to answer the question of how do we get there? Leaders are expected to guide their teams based on their knowledge and experience. Aligned goals ensure that everyone is working toward the same ends. The team of problem-solvers that you developed, row in the same direction as you do to accomplish those goals.

Lean is a strategy that has proven effective in responding effectively to unforeseen changes and situations. In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to have a system to analyze the situation, create and implement a new business strategy. You can do this using Hoshin planning. If you decide to use Lean as your strategy, it will be the new framework to make decisions and conduct your business.