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 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.  

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

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

Go See

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

Ask What

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

Show Respect

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

Benefits of the Gemba Walks

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

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

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

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

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

Understand the problem

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

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

Collect data

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

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

Find the root cause

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

Plan creation and execution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CI 101, CI Tools

What are the three pillars of Kaizen?

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

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

Misaaki Imai

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

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

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

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

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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 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

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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.  

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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.