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CI 101

What is knowledge waste? One of the 8 Wastes of Lean.

In my previous post, I mentioned that the heart of the lean system is people’s involvement, a highly motivated team continuously seeking the best way.  I learn this idea from Pascal Dennis on his book Lean Production Simplified, which is one of my favorite lean books.  It was in the same book, where for the first time, I learned about the nine wastes of knowledge.

Value-added activities add something, change, or transform material or information into what the customer is willing to pay for, everything else is non-value-added or waste.  Although at the beginning was seven deadly wastes, now we include the waste of knowledge to have eight categories of waste.  

Knowledge waste has different names, unused or non-utilized talent, non-utilized potential or skills, and neglect of human talent.  Regardless of what name you use, this type of waste is one of the reasons why so many companies have huge turnover rates.   In traditional management, leadership dictates orders expecting people to follow them without even questioning.  Doing that is disrespectful, it is treating people like commodities, the same way machines are treated.  

There is no surprise that for Toyota, respect is one of its core values.  Self-esteem is one of Maslow’s psychological needs, the feeling of achieving things, confidence, and respect is important to have the right level of self-esteem.  As leaders, we are responsible for actively listening, understand, motivate, teach, and influence our team.  If we fail, we are stopping the flow of knowledge, ideas, and creativity.  In other words, we are failing our team and creating a waste of knowledge.

The nine types of knowledge waste are the following.

  1. Hand-off – a separation of knowledge, responsibility, action, and feedback.
  2. Useless information – false or incorrect information
  3. Discarded knowledge – acquired knowledge or information that no longer serves the original purpose
  4. Wishful thinking – making decisions without adequate information
  5. Waiting – for information, comments, authorization
  6. Misalignment – disconnects in information or time, between departments, or within departments. 
  7. Communication barriers – culture, language and organizational culture
  8. Inadequate checking – constant follow-up, check, and balances, lack of trust
  9. Wrong tool – poor communication tools, narrow information channels

Many leaders still think that to be the boss, they need to have all the information, and hold it for themselves because the information is power. There is a lot of hidden talent in our organizations, and it is our responsibility to motivate, develop, teach, communicate, and influence our team. If we are not doing this, then we are guilty of creating a waste of knowledge. 

CI Tools

What is and how to use spaghetti charts?

Spaghetti chart or spaghetti plot is a process analysis tool.  This simple and effective tool is to trace the path of a given activity.  You can visualize the flow of people, information, or materials through the system or area.  Its name comes from the similarity in how a noodle dish looks and the diagram.

The continuous flow enables the identification of waste within the system.  For example, you would be able to see how many times a person has to walk to the printing room to get his/her hardcopies.  

The following are the basic steps to draw the spaghetti diagram.

  1. Get or draw a map of the area.
  2. Define the first and last steps of the process you are going to analyze.
  3. Starting with the first step of the process, draw a continuous line or arrow pointing to the end of that step.
  4. Draw a line or arrow from there to the end of the second step.
  5. Repeat until reaching the last step.

You can support the information from this chart, measuring the distance between steps and adding how many times each station or point is reached during one cycle.  The time it takes to travel between points helps to calculate what percentage of the time the employee is moving between areas, which is waste.  Below you can see an example of a diagram used to illustrate the movements of laboratory technicians while completing one test.

CI Tools

How do you use the Job Breakdown Sheet?


The Job Breakdown Sheet is used as part of the Job Instruction program to breakdown the job into the smaller steps that make it up.   The Job Breakdown Sheet is used as part of the Job Instruction program to breakdown the job into the smaller steps that make it up.   We do this because it is easier to understand and learn each step at a time.  As described in my last post, the form contains the job steps (what), key points (how), reasons (why).

Let’s use one example to explain better how to use the sheet.  The process or operation that I will use is how to cook a sunny-side egg.  

The top of the form contains general information such as what is the process and what you need to do the job.  You will need to list all ingredients, materials, equipment, and tools need to cook two eggs.   

The breakdown section has the important steps, those that advance the work, change or transform the materials or ingredients, or adds value.  Use action verbs or phrases to start the description.  For each step, add the corresponding key points and reasons.  The key points are critical information that will help to avoid injuries, ensure the quality of the product, or make the job easier.  Use adjectives or adverbs to add this information. The part called Reason is used to explain why the step is important.  It is used to support safety, quality, delivery, or cost objectives.

Please see below the Job Breakdown Sheet example, use it as a reference, to breakdown one of your jobs.  

CI Tools

How do you make sure you understand the job? You need to know this before creating standard work.

One of our responsibilities as leaders is to keep our team and customers safe.  These days that means that we have to incorporate the CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public areas and workplaces. How we make sure that our staff follows the instructions?  How do we redesign our processes to ensure the appropriate distancing?  To ensure effective procedures, you will need to create standard work to ensure understanding and execution, as well as communication and training.

In my post Standardization and problems, how to create standard work to reduce problems?,  I mentioned the general steps to create standard work.  The first step is to understand the process for which we will develop the standard work. Although maybe you want to go straight to creating the standard, the right way to do it is to improve the process first.  Why?  Because if you currently have problems, it is because the process needs improvements. The following are the three steps to understand the process.

  1. Identify and learn the process
  2. Understand the job sequence
  3. Find out the process parameters

Identify and learn the process

Ask what is the purpose of this process, what is supposed to accomplish?  What is the value for the customer?  Does the current pandemic affect what the customer wants?  It is important to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish with this process, what is the target condition you expect from it.

Go to the place where value is created, where the action happens, what in lean we call the gemba.  Study the process without going into specifics, take a general look at the flow of materials and people.  If you would like to minimize the areas on which employees and customers cross each other, drawing a spaghetti chart will help you to visualize those patterns.  You can use the same tool to see how the information or materials travel through the process.  Identify where the flow stops, look for waste, such as waiting, delays, excess inventory, and others. Respectfully ask your team about those areas, how they feel, what they think?  Take note to remember those key points that you will use while understanding the job sequence.

Understand the Job Sequence

Armed with general knowledge about the process, break the job down into smaller logical steps.  We use the template called “Job Breakdown Sheet” to document this part.  This sheet is from the Job Instruction program, which is part of the leadership development program Training Within Industry.  

A step is a logical segment of the operation when something happens to advance the job.  The job advances when it changes form, fit, function, or adds value.  For each step, you will fill out what, how, and why.  What is the section where the step description goes.  

Key points are important pieces of information that can make or break the job.  On this section, you listed what is important to ensure safety, achieve quality, or make the job easier.  Include the best practices to perform the step as part of the key points.  The last section is to explain the why for each key point.  It is easier to remember a step, if you know why it is important.  Also, this is a good place to explain why the best practices are important, how they are aligned with safety, quality, delivery and safety objectives.

Find out the process parameters

After you learned the work sequence, it is time to add more information that will help to develop the new job method.  One of the components of standard work is the rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand.  To get this number, you need to know the customer demand.  Another piece of information that you need to gather at this time is cycle time, how much it takes to complete the job sequence.

In my next posts, I will explain more about the tools I mentioned here, spaghetti chart and Job Breakdown Sheet.

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, it shows the steps to do 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.