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Customer Satisfaction

Do you want to satisfy customer demand? Tips for understanding demand.

When you practice continuous improvement, the goal is to provide your customers with the highest quality, at the lowest cost, in the shortest time by eliminating waste.  You aim to provide them with the value they are looking for at the time they need it.  Understand and satisfy customer demand is not an easy task.  To understand customer demand, you need to understand the volume, the mix, and the variability.

How does the sales volume of your product change over time?  Is it seasonal?  Can you identify peaks and troughs?  For example, the sales of all kinds of outdoor sports gear have their peak during the summer, while arts and crafts increase during the winter.  Fall and winter are baking seasons, while the summer is grill season.  

How it looks like the mix of products sell?  There is a good chance that 80% of your sales are made up of 20% of your products.  Finally, you need to understand the variability of the demand.  Are those volumes steady, or do they change often?

In a perfect world, you would be able to produce what they need; at the time they need it.  But the world is not perfect, and most probably, you respond to volume, mix, and variation by overproducing and creating inventory.  Both things are waste in the continuous improvement world.

To respond to all these changes without over-producing, you need to be flexible.  Design the work area to allow for changes.  Consider the use of worktables and equipment on wheels that you can move when you need to change the configuration or layout.  Team flexibility is critical to react to changes in demand or mix.  Make sure that cross-training and people’s development never stop.    

Another critical piece is to schedule your product to respond to those changes without the ups and downs of demand.  You do that by using production leveling.  Using the volume, mix, and variability information, you can classify your products this way.

  1. Runners – Top sellers, orders with high volume and high frequency with little to no variability.
  2. Repeaters which are moderate volume and order frequency.  Their variability is moderate too.
  3. Cats and dogs or strangers which are low volume and frequency with high variability.

After you classify your products within one of these categories, you are ready to design your leveled schedule.  Your goal is to set up a series of workstations that build products as per demand.  You can have dedicated lines for your runners while grouping similar repeaters with similar ingredients or materials in the same work area or lines.  Cats and dogs are so infrequent that you should consider making them to order.

Use your data to understand your customers, they customers or their buying habits give you the answer you need to improve your processes.  Knowing all the details about demand will help to satisfy your customer demand without incurring high inventory costs and all kinds of waste caused by overproduction, which is the worst of the 7 wastes.

CI 101

Humans err, how do you build robust systems?

Humans err, we make mistakes all the time.  While working, it is common to feel the pressure to finish the workload on time.  Interruptions and problems with the material, equipment, or computerized systems only add more stress and increase the opportunities to make mistakes.  But those are not the only sources of stress, and therefore of defects or errors.  The process itself can be the biggest problem if it is not robust and aim to keep human error to a minimum.  A good system or process reduces the worker’s physical and mental burden by eliminating the need to inspect for common mistakes that leads to defects. 

A bad system will beat a good person every time.

W. Edwards Deming

How do you know that a process is not robust?  If it has one or more of the following characteristics is a perfect candidate for a Kaizen or continuous improvement event.   

  • It has a high defects rate
  • Nobody wants to do it; people are regularly complaining about how difficult it is
  • The workers often missed steps or use the wrong material
  • Missing parts or information 
  • The equipment is not set-up properly
  • The machine, program, or tools do not operate as desired

How do you build a robust system?  Like with any other continuous improvement activity, it is critical to have the participation of the team.  They know better than anybody else how it should work and the daily hassles and challenges.  These are some things to do to design a robust system.

  1. Learn what are the most common mistakes and rack them based on severity or frequency.  Choose one or two to tackle during this event.
  2. Listen to the voice of the customer, in this case, your employees.  Because they feel the pain and stress, it is in their best interest to fix the faulty process.  Ask them why they make mistakes?  You can use the cause and effect analysis or the 5 Why to find the root cause.   
  3. Brainstorming for improvement ideas, look for preventive measures.  How can you prevent the mistake from happening?
  4. Promote mistake-proofing devices as a method to prevent mistakes.  These devices reduce or minimize the chances of human error.
  5. While improving the process, instill on your employees the concept, Quality at the source.  Instead of having people downstream inspecting the product, each person is responsible for their work inspection.   If they find a defect, take corrective action, and avoid passing it to the next person.    

Robust systems acknowledge that mistakes happen and aim to achieve smooth processes with fewer defects. This kind of system improves the work environment by removing the blame culture.  So, instead of blaming the worker, fix the process by making it robust. 

Home

How organized is your wardrobe or closet? Is it a good place for 5S?

Every morning you stand in front of the closet looking at the clothes, wondering what to wear.  Probably, you have a couple of suits that you rotated every week.  You are doing that not because you intend to have a uniform or be practical, but because the closet is cluttered, and you cannot reach some areas.  It is possible that you have clothes that you have not seen in years.  

All the house closets are perfect targets for 5S, but this time I will focus on the bedroom closet.  Follow the five steps for cleaning and organization, one at the time.  The best way to see everything you have is to empty the closet.  If you are using more than one, place all items in the same place to start sorting.  When you finished sorting, decide what is the best location but do not put anything back until you clean the area.  This time is going to be the best moment ever to vacuum and clean the entire closet.  Find below a couple of tips for each step.

Sort

Sorting through the closet items should be an easy task.  Look out for these things that you can get rid of without hesitation. 

  1. Old clothing, shoes, and accessories that you never wear, either because you don’t like them anymore or do not fit.
  2. Mismatched socks
  3. Clothing that is either in bad shape, broken or stained.
  4. Eyeglasses with old prescriptions. 
  5. Old towels and bedding

You can do the following with the discarded items.

  • If the clothing is in good condition, donate it.  
  • Donate old eyeglasses.
  • Fix or have someone fixing for you those items with missing buttons, broken zipper, of need a little adjustment job.
  • If you have dogs, you can use towels and other linen for them.  You can also use some and donate the extras to your local shelter.

Set in Order

  • You need to be able to see what you have without opening drawers or boxes.  Use open shelves and boxes when need it. 
  • Organize hangers to maximize the use of vertical space.  For example,  you can have blouses and shirts on top hanging space and below it another for skirts and pants.
  • Use drawer organizers and dedicate each drawer to one item type, for example, socks.
  • Divide your items by use or season, work clothes vs. home, summer vs. winter, and others.
  • If you have one available, you can designate one closet or space for bulky winter items.
  • Use shoe racks whenever possible, avoid using shoe boxes unless they are clear.  

Shine

  • Clean all shelves and hanging systems.  
  • You can paint the insides of the closet now.
  • Look for missing knobs, broken parts, loose screws, and other things.  Repair what you can and replace what you need.

Standardize

  • You can use temporary labels to identify what goes where, at least until you get used to it.  Unless you do your laundry, you need to ensure that everybody sees, understands, and does the same.  

Sustain

  • You don’t need to wait until spring to clean your closet or wardrobe.  Put in a calendar to check your closet every other month or so.
  • As soon as you grab something that does not fit anymore, decide what to do with it.  If you do not want to get rid of things that fast, designate a small area to put those items and check them as part of your closet review per calendar.

To clean and keep the house clean is everybody’s responsibility.  You can make 5S a family activity, teach your kids how to do it, and have them check on their closets the same day you do.  Doing this regularly, you will avoid planning how or where to build additional closet space for your clothes. 

CI Tools

Is human error an acceptable root cause? Find a better root cause to have a more effective corrective action than employee retraining.

I was called to help this company to investigate the root cause of all the non-compliance observations they got on a recent third-party audit.  It turns out that a couple of those observations were recurrent, and the audit agency wanted to see a corrective action preventive action (CAPA) report for each.  The experience was the perfect opportunity to have department and line leaders learning and practicing how to do root cause analysis.

Soon enough, after we start analyzing the first observation, the group concludes that the root cause was human error.  The corrective action to avoid recurrence was retraining.  I moved on to the next two, obtaining similar results.  I know three points are not enough to say there is a pattern, but in this case, it was enough to prove my point.   

It is common to choose employee retraining as a corrective action, but because human error is not the real root cause, it will not prevent the problem from happening again.  RCA requires persistence to keep asking why until finding the end cause.  If you stop digging before finding the underlying cause, the process fails.  You end up working with a symptom or a proximate cause.  In the example above, human error is the symptom or physical source.  The source of it is the real root of the problem.   

Asking why the person made the mistake will help to identify the real root cause.  Keep asking why to dig deeper into the problem.  Human error is often the product of inadequate processes, lack of resources, using the wrong tools, complicated work instructions, too many interruptions, or noisy environment, between others.  

Do you want to find the real reason for human error?  Engage the team, the people who create value, those who actually do the work, and ask why.  I bet you that they will have lots of ideas to improve the process and minimize or eliminate recurrence.  Humans are not perfect, acknowledge that fact and design robust systems that minimize defects or errors.  Visual management and mistake-proofing devices are good tools to accomplish that.  

Next time you find that the cause of the problem is human error, keep digging!  Why humans erred?  Be as curious as a cat, find the real underlying cause and improve your process.

CI 101

What is the role of leadership in implementing continuous improvement?

Leadership defines the organizational culture, and the company culture determines how employees react to the news regarding continuous improvement or lean implementation.  For that reason, they carry a heavyweight to change, model, and sustain the new culture.  In my last post, I listed five actions to do to achieve the elements of a successful CI implementation.  Today I will discuss the third one, which is to Demand leadership responsibility.

We can summarize their new responsibilities in five pieces. 

  1. Understand the current culture and learn what needs to change to have a CI culture.
  2. Learn continuous improvement principles by doing.
  3. Develop the team by teaching what they just learn.
  4. Motivate participation.
  5. Model the new behavior.

Just as the CEO or top leader had to study the current culture and how it would affect implementation, other leaders have to do the same.  It is important to see the difference between present practices and continuous improvement culture.  They need to understand how the current situation will affect their implementation efforts.

Change creates stress on employees; how much depends on the culture.  When employees do not trust management, the level of stress will be higher. The fear of losing the job or getting new responsibilities will affect their performance and the reaction to those changes.  Effective communication is critical to relay the correct message.  The leadership group should explain what is going to happen, when, how, answer their questions, and clarify doubts. 

As the top leader, you have to model this behavior and show them what you expect to see.  Although you can expect some resistance, keep coaching them, take your time to ensure they learn the basic concepts.  Be calm and patient but do not accept deviations from the expected behavior.  Those who cannot adopt the new model become roadblocks.  There are only two options for them, they learn and adapt, or unfortunately, they will have to go.  

Learning new behaviors and ways to do things is never easy.  When you have to learn and teach your team, what you are just learning, it makes you feel uneasy.  Supervisors and managers are used to having all the answers, that is what people expect from them.  During this journey, they will learn while they are teaching.  They will realize how much they learned, or not at the moment they have to explain those principles and tools to their team.  They will feel vulnerable not knowing the answers or making the mistakes.  One of the first things that everybody needs to learn, is that in continuous improvement it is ok to make mistakes.  Continuous improvement is about using a systematic approach to learn about the process and improve it, one step at a time.  

The beauty of this is that while the leader learns, the team learns as well.  It is a welcome change when they see that their supervisor is learning and doing the same as they are.  While the leaders become coaches, the team is empowered to learn new things, and unleash their creativity to improve their own work.  It is important to highlight that these coaches are going to teach by showing how to do it, follow-up for questions or doubts, and then let go.  They are not supposed to have all the answers, the team is driving the solution of the millions of little problems they have every day.  

It is a leadership job to walk the working areas to observe the process, ask questions with respect when they notice that there is a deviation between the standard and the actual performance, and challenge the team to fix it.  It is also their job to support the team and help by providing resources and removing roadblocks when it is needed.  They need to model the behaviors they are asking their team to have.  There is no more do what I say, not what I do.  Effective leaders lead by example.  It is part of their daily job to promote lean thinking and insist on using the CI tools.As long as leadership keeps fulfilling their continuous improvement responsibilities, implementation will keep going and slowly, but surely, the culture will change.  This entire process takes time, blood, and tears, but all that is nothing compared with the rewards.

CI 101

How to achieve the key elements for continuous improvement success

From What are the key elements for CI success? we know that for a successful continuous improvement implementation we need the following.

  1. Leadership buy-in and support
  2. Culture change, lean thinking & people’s development
  3. Effective Communication every step of the way
  4. Use the right CI tools, create your own toolbox
  5. Continuous improvement everywhere, every day, by everybody

As a business owner or top leader of your organization, you have a huge responsibility to make this happen. The implementation is something that you should not delegate.  If you don’t know how to do it or if you are not familiar with it, find a responsible coach to guide you through this journey.  There are a few fundamental actions to ride successfully the implementation road.  

  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 discussed the first one in the post How does the work environment affect the lean implementation? The job environment review is critical to understand how the company culture will affect the implementation.  Complete this action before you start to practice continuous improvement.  Incorporate other as part of your daily job as a top leader.  Today I will cover the second action, develop our people first, and motivate participation.

The mission of continuous improvement is to develop team skills.  Respect for the people is at the core of lean thinking and is one of the top three characteristics of the right work environment for CI success.  One of the lean thinking principles is that the people doing the work design it and solve the problems.  The leaders guide the team by respectfully asking questions.  They teach them problem-solving and data analysis tools and support them in providing resources and removing roadblocks.  The leaders are now coaches, not bosses.

Link the company Vision and Mission statements to the continuous improvement activities.  Align those activities to the company goals and objectives.  Continuous improvement is not a project but part of everybody’s daily work and should be part of their performance review.  Ensure that these things are communicated, discussed, and explain to everybody.

Build a team to work on tying together communication, training, participation, and employee’s performance.  The objective is to define and clarify responsibilities, set expectations, and incentivize participation.  This team is responsible for reviewing the job descriptions, performance system, incentive program, and creating a suggestion program.  

An important piece to motivate participation is training tailored to the company and industry.  A good trainer will design the training based on the audience and their preferred learning method.  Lean is about learning by doing, make sure to provide enough theory to support the hands-on activities.   

The success of the new culture and CI implementation is based on communication, teamwork, alignment between objectives and actions, motivation, and training.  Regardless of how difficult the journey may be, always use Lean Thinking as your North.

CI Tools

How to write a work instruction. Easy guide to create your own template.

Standard Work (SW) is a simple written description to perform a task. SW is the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task. The three components of standard work are the following.

  • 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

Let’s focus today on the first component.  One way to document this component of standard work is by using work instructions.  A work instruction describes in detail the step by step information to do the task.  In general, they combine words, pictures, icons, or sketches, to define each step.  They also contain important tips for things that can make or break the job, safety, and quality.  

The first step to create standard work was to understand the process and break down the job.   If you follow all the steps, then you already have the job sequence to perform the job safely and efficiently while achieving high quality.  All you have to do now is to present the information in a simple and easy to understand format.

Document header

  1. This is an official document and should contain the company or business name, and address. 
  2. Use a clear title that describes the task.
  3. Although is not critical, you should have a standard alphanumerical format to identify the work instructions.  This is helpful if you plan to create instructions for key tasks in different departments.  This number should go next to the work instruction title.
  4. Identify the department and position(s) that will perform this task.
  5. Include the document effective date.
  6. When the job has safety risks or required the use of personal protective equipment, you should identify both.  This information can go either on the heading or the body of the instruction.  You can use words but is better to use icons to represent risks and PPE.

Work Instruction body

  1. List the materials or equipment required to do the job, use bullet points to facilitate reading.
  2. Describe how to perform each step following the appropriate sequence.
  3. For each step, include risks, and tips to do the job easier and/or achieve the desired quality.

Document footer

  1. If you are using the WI as a training tool, the footer should include space for the trainer and trainee names and signatures.

Do the following while writing your work instructions.

  1. A number sequence for the steps.
  2. Limit the numbers of steps, if the task has more than 8-10 steps, subdivide the instruction in different subjects.
  3. Bullets or numbers each time you need to list something.
  4. Highlight important information using a different color, bold or italics.
  5. Use pictures, screen shots or icons every time you can.

Create a document template with the format you chose and a library with the icons to depict risks, actions, personal protective equipment, and others.  Designate who will be responsible for creating the work instructions.  Also, who will manage the documents library, including numbering, and filing.  Consistency and clarity are critical to avoid confusion

CI 101

How do you improve your process flow? How to reduce or eliminate process flow obstacles.

The goal of continuous improvement is to provide the customer, with the highest quality, at the lowest cost in a shorter time.  For a shorter time, your processes need to flow without interruptions or obstacles.  How do you achieve that? Yes, you guessed it, you have to identify and eliminate waste.  These are the steps that you can use to improve the flow.

  1. Start with your longer processes to assure biggest impact on the operation.  
  2. Define the value of the process from the customer lenses.  
  3. Go to see the process.
  4. Breakdown the process in steps and ask what is the purpose, why it is necessary?
  5. Can you combine or eliminate steps?
  6. Can you rearrange steps to improve flow?
  7. Can you reduce or eliminate waste?
  8. Can you move equipment, machines or workstations closer together to minimize distance?
  9. Is it possible to reduce work-in-process inventory?

When you go to see the process, walk through the entire flow, and observe where it stops.  Waste is usually a symptom of obstacles to flow.  Every time you see work-in-process inventory, defects or errors, people waiting, excessive motion, or longer than necessary transportation, you are looking at things that stop the flow.

When you improve the flow, you are reducing the process cycle time.  That is how you will be able to deliver your product or service faster to your clients.  Reducing or eliminating waste is also a way to reduce operating expenses in the form of inventories and defects reduction.  

CI Tools

How to create standard work? Using PDCA to create the baseline for continuous improvement.

Although PDCA is a problem-solving tool, this methodology is excellent for any improvement activity.  We followed PDCA while walking through the kaizen steps, and today we will use it to create standard work.  In general, the following are the steps to create work standards.  The figure below shows how they translate into the PDCA steps.

  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

PDCA should be a team exercise, always recruit team members to analyze and create standards.  The most important part of the PDCA cycle, understanding the problem is critical for its success. This statement remains true when we use PDCA to create standard work.  Even if you know the process, ask what it is about, and what is supposed to accomplish.  What is its purpose?    If you can eliminate or combine the process, do it!  If you cannot, then continue to understand the job sequence, breakdown the job, and question each step. Always observe the process and talk with the people who do the work.

The next step is to develop a new method.  Engage the team in a brainstorming session for improvement ideas.  Prioritize and select the best solutions to design a new way to perform the job.   Use those ideas to design the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to do the work.  Test the new design, observe the process, and measure the results.  All this is part of the step Do, the second of the PDCA cycle.

The third PDCA step is Check, which is what you will do while analyzing the results from your test drive.  Does the new process achieve the objectives?  Is this the best way to do the job?  If it is, start to create the standard, which is the last PDCA step, Act.  If it is not, modify or adapt the process.  

If your test drive proves that you need to improve the new process further to accomplish the goals, modify it, and test it again as part of the PDCA step Act.  You keep changing, testing, and analyzing until you reach the desired condition.  When this happens, it is time to create the standard.

PDCA provides a framework that is easy to follow and repeat.  In the same way that you can use it to standardize Kaizen, you can use it for your standard work creation also.  Standard work is the baseline for future improvements.  You create the standard, let the operation stabilize, and then improve the standard.  

CI Tools

What is Leader Standard Work?

The fundamental ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  It is impossible to create a culture without the active participation and support of leadership.  Most of the time, leaders at all levels have to learn continuous improvement principles and tools along with their team.  But that is the easy part, the challenging one, is to move away from traditional thinking and adopt a completely different way to behave, think, solve problems, communicate and relate to others.  

In other words, leaders looking to use continuous improvement and lean thinking need to build a new business persona.  This journey will help you to reflect on how you manage or supervise now and build new habits for the future.   Some people say it takes 21 days to build a habit, while others claim it takes up to 66 days.  I don’t know the right answer, but I know that building the habits required to successfully change a culture takes more than a couple of months of practice.

One tool that helps with leadership changes in behavior is Leader Standard Work.  Standard work ensures consistent results and is the baseline upon which improvements are made.  Leader standard work is a description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to drive continuous improvement and Lean thinking throughout the organization.

Leader standard work is usually presented as a form or checklist with daily tasks, as well as space for additional tasks specific for the day.  You can divide the daily tasks by time-specific, like meetings and non-time specific.  A different approach is to divide tasks into sections.  For example, before, during, and at the end of the shift.  Like many other things with continuous improvement, you can select the format that makes more sense for you and your business.

The following are things that you should include in your Leader Standard Work because they support and promote continuous improvement.

  • Daily team meetings
  • Walk the area where value is created
  • Observe out of normal situations
  • Support continuous improvement activities
  • Follow-up performance vs. objectives
  • Set direction, ask and answer questions
  • Reflection
  • Plan the next day

Although many can say that using a form to guide what you have to do through the day is too restrictive and takes away the flexibility to deal with daily problems, it is the contrary.  Remember, you are building a new habit, a new way of doing business.  The form will help you to create that habit and make you focus on those things that will help to identify out of standard situations before they become a problem.  It will take time, but in the end, you will see the benefits of seeing things by yourself and not relying on reports with outdated information.  Lean is about learning, experimenting, and reflection on the results to keep learning and improving.  As a leader, you set the example by doing what you expect your team does.

This is like whey you are trying to build the habit of jogging or have a walk daily. It is hard, but over time you will get the benefits, will get used to it and doing it is almost like breathing.