Time studies and continuous improvement

time studies and continuous improvement

From everything I learned while studying industrial engineering, time study is what I have to use the most.  Time studies and continuous improvement have always been part of my job. Early in my career, I use time studies to establish or update time standards.    Later on, when I started to learn and practice CI, time studies were part of the data collection process.  This time, the time study was a component of the process to define the problem under analysis.  

Numerous times in my career, I found well-intended people trying to do formal time studies as part of kaizen or continuous improvement activity.  There is no need to complicate your life.  Nevertheless, it is necessary to follow some basic rules to ensure satisfactory data collection.

Time studies and time standards

Time study or work measurement is a method to establish an allowed time to perform a given task.  Frederick Taylor envisioned industrial engineers using time and motion studies to determine the best way to do the job.  Standardized work and cycle time reduction are two more of Taylor’s innovations.  

While establishing a time standard, industrial engineers would use a detailed process to observe and analyze the method and measure time.  The standard calculation includes rating the operator’s performance and applying for allowances.   This type of time study seeks to establish a standard used for manufacturing cost and wage calculations.  They need to be specific and accurate.  The focus is on the process, looking to reduce the cycle and make it more efficient.

Time studies and continuous improvement

On the other hand, when using time studies in continuous improvement, you don’t need to rate performance or use allowances.  You are not trying to create a time standard.  The purpose is to see if the changes are moving the needle in the right direction.  The focus is on the operator and how to reduce his/her pain points.  How can you make the work easier and safer?  While doing that, you will reduce the cycle time, but that is not the priority.  

Although you won’t need to calculate a standard time at this point, you need good data.  For that, there are a few steps that you need to follow.  Talk with the operator who is completing the process.  Explain why you are there and clarify that you will measure the process, not the person.  Observe the process and ask questions to understand what he or she is doing.  Also, look at the flow of materials and/or the information and learned about the pain points. Your objective is to eliminate waste.

This preliminary work will help you to get familiar with the process.  Once you are familiar with it, you can divide it into general steps for further time measurement.  You to measure how long it takes to complete a process, before and after the improvements. 

Keep it simple

Learning is always better when you keep things simple.  Concepts that are too complicated may distract you from the real purpose of the exercise.  All you want to accomplish is to get data to compare if the proposed improvements reduce the cycle.  

There are many other ways to improve a process besides cycle reduction.  Focus on finding the waste within the process.  Then look for ways to eliminate or reduce it.  Waste reduction will reduce the cycle time while making the process easier, minimize errors, eliminate waiting times, and others. There are two key things for sustainable improvements.  First, you need participation from the team doing the work.  Nobody knows the process better than them.  Second, the focus of the improvement efforts is always the customers, internal and external.

SDCA, what it is, and when you should use it.

SDCA, is it the same as PDCA? The PDCA cycle provides a structure for problem-solving as and continuous improvement. At the beginning of the journey, it is highly probable that the operation needs stabilization.  The three pillars of continuous improvement, 5S, standardization, and waste identification-elimination are the right tools for that job.  To improve a process we need a standard first.

Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen. Taiichi Ohno

SDCA is used when there is no standard

What happens when there is no standard?  Although a standard does not exist, you know the desired outcome for the process.  When this outcome is not achieved consistently, you can conclude that the process is not stable.  In that case, first, you need to establish the standard. Second, you need to stabilize the process. And third, you start to improve it.  To create the standard, you use SDCA. This is a similar process to PDCA. The steps are Standardize, Do, Check, Act.  

Standardization

Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.  To establish the standard, which is the first step on this cycle, you will use collective knowledge, the best-known easier and safer way to meet the customer needs.  Remember that we want to provide the customer with the highest quality product or service, at the lowest cost, in a shorter time.  Once the standard exists, it is critical to ensure adherence to it.  Everybody has to follow it every day to achieve consistency.  

The process of establishing the standard is done with the participation of the employees who perform the task. A supervisor or team leader should write the standard. It is recommended to follow the guidelines from the Job Instruction Training and Job Methods.

What happens next?

The last three steps of the SDCA cycle are similar to what we know from PDCA.  Do refer to putting the standard into place, Check means to verify the effectiveness to meet expectations, and Act is to complete all documentation and training necessary to make the standard official.  This last step is now the existing standard and becomes the benchmark for improvement.

Only when the standard is established, followed, and stable, you move on to improve it.  In summary, the standards cycle is, create a new standard, stabilize, improve, repeat.

What is a swim-lane map? When do you use it?

swim-lane process map

The third type of map in our process mapping series is the swim-lane.  Other names for it are process flow map and cross-functional flow chart.  This process flow map allows you to identify the duties and responsibilities of different departments or functions in a single process and see how they relate to each other.  It displays how the process flows using a table format similar to swim-lanes. It shows the departments in a vertical lane and functions or objectives in a horizontal direction, or vice versa. 

Swim-lane maps make it easier to visualize the responsibilities, duties, and objectives of each department. Also, it helps to see the bottlenecks and redundancies of the process.  Its use is common in the supply chain, sales, marketing, and product development.

When do you use a swim-lane map?

  • The purpose of this type of map is to document processes, so people who are part of it understand the flow and how they affect others.
  • You need to clarify the responsibilities of complex processes, like those indicated above.
  • To improve communication and collaboration by giving the participants the chance to see how their work affects others and identify how their work is attached to the final product.
  • You need to understand the input and output for each function or department.

How to draw a swim-lane map

  1. Get a cross-functional team of process owners, about 5 to 10 people.
  2. Clarify the purpose or the objective.  What do you want to see or get from the map?  This step will help to facilitate the process and provides focus on the activity.
  3. Present the symbols for a process step, decision points, connectors, and others.
  4. Define the process mapping scope, what are the first and last steps.
  5. Label the map with the process name, date, and map scope.
  6. Draw a table in a whiteboard or using flip charts and mark the lines to create the swim-lane effect.  
  7. List the functions or department names on the column or row heading as per your preference. 
  8. Start drawing the process flow in chronological order.  If more than one step happens at the same time, draw them parallel to each other.
  9. Connect all the steps and decision points following the flow.
  10. When you reach the end of the process, make a second pass to verify that all steps are included.  

More notes in drawing the map

You can draw your swim-lane in Word, Visio, or any other software that you prefer.  I like to use a whiteboard and 3 x 6 Post-it notes to makes it easier for group participation.  For each step, describe what is done in simple words using verbs or nouns.  When the header contains the department name, write the name of the function that performs the task in the note.   If it is relevant to the purpose of the mapping exercise, you can include metrics like process time or details like what system or program is used.

Identify the improvement opportunities, highlight those areas with too many handoffs, redundancy, waiting times, and others.  You can use PDCA to create the action plan, execute, and verify for effectiveness.  Reflect at the end of the exercise.  Was the objective accomplished?  What did you learn?  What do you need to communicate to all team members?  Get feedback from the team and improve the process mapping experience.  

What to do before, during, and after the gemba walk

Gemba walks, like any other process, need a consistent structure or standard.  It helps to avoid confusion, clarify the purpose and intent, and provides general steps that facilitate customization for specific situations without losing the essence of what a gemba walk is.  

The walks have three stages, which happen before, during, and after the walk.  When you coach your team to be walkers with a purpose, you become more effective, learning by doing.  The more you practice, the better you become.

Preparation

When you plan to go out for a gemba walk, the first thing you need to know is the purpose of the walk and to what area you will go.  Each walk needs a purpose or objective, which can be coaching, learn about a specific situation within a process, or looking for improvement opportunities.  Show respect for the owners of the area you are going to visit by letting them know in advance what is the purpose of your visit and how they can help.  Be honest about your intentions and clear about your expectations.  Right before the walk, take five minutes to explain the purpose and expectations of the walk to the team walking with you.   Remember that two of the walk benefits are to develop your team and drive alignment within the organization.

During the Walk

While walking, you will go and see, show respect, and ask what, then why. Understand the purpose of work and performance expectations. During the walk, observe if there is any gap between what is supposed to happen and what is happening.  Use the scientific process (PDCA) to identify the reasons and find the root cause.  As a leader, focus on the process as the source of errors, not the people.  

Ask what first, what is the purpose, what are the steps, or what are you trying to accomplish?  Asking those questions requires being mindful of how you are asking, not only your tone but your body language as well.  You want to show respect, listen to their words, be empathic, and let them feel that you care about their needs and feelings.  Make your actions consistent with your words, and do what you said you would do, be trustworthy.  

Once you gain an understanding of the situation, you can ask why questions.  While trying to gain a deeper understanding, it is appropriate to use the 5 Why technique.  

After the Walk

After the walk, take another five minutes to get an understanding of its effectiveness.  Listen to the observations and discussion points from the walkers.  Clarify any doubts and capture all observation and improvement ideas.  Get agreement on what improvements the group will work with and combine them into one list. Create a follow-up plan, who will work with what, and preliminary timeline. 

Do your best to stay focused on the agreed purpose of the walk.  Lead the walk in such a way that walkers understand that it is more effective if everybody focused on one thing at a time.  Unless you see something that is urgent, like a safety situation, do not deviate from the purpose agreed during the preparation stage.  Remember, continuous improvement works because it is focused on small improvements at a time. 

SDCA, what it is, and when you should use it.

SDCA, is it the same as PDCA? The PDCA cycle provides a structure for problem-solving as and continuous improvement. At the beginning of the journey, it is highly probable that the operation needs stabilization.  The three pillars of continuous improvement, 5S, standardization, and waste identification-elimination are the right tools for that job.  To improve a process we need a standard first.

Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen. Taiichi Ohno

SDCA is used when there is no standard

What happens when there is no standard?  Although a standard does not exist, you know the desired outcome for the process.  When this outcome is not achieved consistently, you can conclude that the process is not stable.  In that case, first, you need to establish the standard. Second, you need to stabilize the process. And third, you start to improve it.  To create the standard, you use SDCA. This is a similar process to PDCA. The steps are Standardize, Do, Check, Act.  

Standardization

Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.  To establish the standard, which is the first step on this cycle, you will use collective knowledge, the best-known easier and safer way to meet the customer needs.  Remember that we want to provide the customer with the highest quality product or service, at the lowest cost, in a shorter time.  Once the standard exists, it is critical to ensure adherence to it.  Everybody has to follow it every day to achieve consistency.  

The process of establishing the standard is done with the participation of the employees who perform the task. A supervisor or team leader should write the standard. It is recommended to follow the guidelines from the Job Instruction Training and Job Methods.

What happens next?

The last three steps of the SDCA cycle are similar to what we know from PDCA.  Do refer to putting the standard into place, Check means to verify the effectiveness to meet expectations, and Act is to complete all documentation and training necessary to make the standard official.  This last step is now the existing standard and becomes the benchmark for improvement.

Only when the standard is established, followed, and stable, you move on to improve it.  In summary, the standards cycle is, create a new standard, stabilize, improve, repeat.

Process Map, what is, when, and how to use it?

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 step’s sequence 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 do you use it?

  • 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!

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

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

To achieve the meeting objectives, follow these tips.

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

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

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

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

What is a huddle meeting? What are the benefits?

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

What is a huddle meeting?

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

What is not a huddle meeting?

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

Benefits of a huddle meeting

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

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

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

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

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.  

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.