CI Tools

Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement

How do we learn to walk? The first step is crawling. As the babies become stronger will start pulling themselves up with the support of someone or something. Once they are up will learn balance and how to keep themselves up without any help. The next stage is walking with the mom or dad’s help, learning how to move their legs to take steps. Their curiosity will drive them to use that learning to wander around the house, using the furniture as support. They build confidence in their skills and keep practicing. Those small steps show them how much independence they gain, and they don’t want to lose it. One step at a time, they finally learn to walk.

The business process improvement is very similar. The goal is clear you want to thrive during good times and survive the inevitable challenges and economic downturns. You know that you need to improve your processes to accomplish on-time delivery of quality goods or services at the lowest cost. You want to change but do not have a clear idea of how. Like the baby learning to walk, you need to take small steps, one at a time.

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions. Before you start complaining about the Japanese words, let me explain its origins. The USA Department of War created in the early 40’s a training program named Training Within Industry (TWI). It was developed within the industry to help ramp up the production of war materials and equipment. TWI introduced the concepts of job instruction training and job methods. Job instruction training teaches the “one best way” to do the work, which we now call standard work. Job Methods taught employees how to break down jobs into smaller steps questioning each one as a way to generate improvement ideas. As a result, a high volume of small incremental improvements from individuals was delivered.

After World War II, the American occupation forces brought in experts to Japan to help to rebuild their industry. Edward Deming introduced TWI, and the Japanese love it so much that they give it a Japanese name, Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two words, Kai (change) and Zen (good). It is commonly translated as a change for good or continuous improvement (CI). The strength of CI comes from the participation of workers, of all levels, in the business improving effort. These efforts are driven by three major activities, standardization, 5S, and waste elimination.

By approaching change in small, incremental steps, CI reduces the fear of change. Like the babies learning to walk, the small steps increase your confidence to keep trying until you find success. If you need help on your journey, reach out, I can help!

This article was originally posted by Jina Rivera in Organization and Efficiency Solutions.

CI 101

Do you believe in these lean misconceptions?

Do not makes these mistakes, learn about lean misconceptions

Like many other things in life, continuous improvement is often misunderstood. During my lean journey, the following are the most common ones that I have encountered.

CI is not a department store, you don’t get to pick and choose what you think you need. CI is a system, the only way to achieve big and consistent results is by using all its parts. CI is a business management system designed to provide customer value with fewer resources. It is made up of a group of principles, best practices, and tools. 

The heart of the system is the people, and you show respect by developing them. These motivated and engaged teams participate in the improvement process and create value. You cannot focus on the tools while ignoring the people’s part.

The second misconception is the idea of delegating the implementation. CI thinking is opposite to traditional management, for a successful implementation the company culture has to change. This change only happens if it is coming from top to bottom. Top leaders need to learn and practice CI every day, everywhere, just like the rest of the team. They show commitment by supporting and actively participating in the transformation.

Another mistake is believing that CI is a cost reduction tool. Do not start this journey without a clear purpose. Why do you want to do it? If the answer is cost reduction, think again. Go and see, ask why, and show respect will lead you to achieve cost goals. But that cannot be the purpose. Instead, think about changing lives or creating value.

The biggest misconception is believing that CI is only for manufacturing companies. Continuous improvement, Best Business Practices, Danaher Business System and Lean Manufacturing are different names for a way to conduct business. The foundation for all of them is the Toyota Production System (TPS). The name Lean Manufacturing shifts your attention to manufacturing, and TPS makes people focus on cars. I prefer to use continuous improvement or Best Business Practices. Those are general terms with no reference to any industry.

Now you know what not to expect from continuous improvement. If you haven’t yet, read my post What is Continuous Improvement and Why you Need it? You will see why you need it in your business.

CI 101

What is a system?

A system is a set of principles or procedures working together to achieve a defined goal. Continuous improvement or Lean is a business management system designed to create customer value with fewer resources. Each part of the system has a purpose or objective. Many times only one or two lean principles are implemented, but not the system. Perhaps that is the reason why the expected results are not obtained.

The goal of lean or continuous improvement is to provide the customer with the highest quality, at the lowest cost, in a shorter time. The foundation of the system is stability and standardization. The pillars to achieve that goal are delivery time and quality. The heart is involvement, highly flexible, and motivated team members that are always improving.
Each program or principle connects with one of those components. For example, 5S and standardize work are critical for process stability. Continuous flow is one of the activities to achieve shorter delivery times.

How do we take care of the system’s heart? One of the most important principles of lean is respect. It is important to treat our team members as human beings and not a commodity. We show respect by taking the time to develop their skills and helping them to be successful. Create opportunities to learn using lean tools and encourage them to improve their work. Employee participation in improvement activities is a way to increase engagement. It gives them a chance to win achieving success in their efforts to create simple and safer processes.

Little by little, I will continue to share other activities or tools connected with the goal, foundation, pillars, and heart of the Lean System. Continuous improvement is not a supermarket of tools to pick and choose those you like more. You don’t need to use all the tools available, but you have to support all the system components. What makes Lean good is not the effectiveness of individual tools, but the synergy between them to achieve the goal.

Productivity

Do you want to see simple solutions at work?

Earlier this week, I posted about using common sense, low-cost solutions to create improvements in the business operation. In this post, I want to present to you one example.

The manager of a chemical laboratory that provides service for a food manufacturing company had problems to released test results as per the customer demand. The samples waiting for analysis were piling up on the refrigerator, and the staff was working overtime to process the backlog. My friend was getting ready to hire an additional lab technician when I suggest to let me help him. He agreed to walk the lab with me at the time he was explaining what he thought was wrong.

I noticed various boxes on the floor, which is a safety hazard. The working tables looked cluttered. I watched one technician searching for the right sample for almost five minutes. They don’t have an efficient method to store them. Also, I observed another technician walking around the room to work on different workstations to complete his test. While I was watching him, somebody came to drop more samples. She just put them right on top of the piled the other guy did while searching a while ago. Within the first ten minutes, I identified two causes for inefficiency, disorganization, and ineffective layout. Everything I pointed out was waste from the customer’s point of view. All those things contribute to increasing the testing time per sample without adding value to the process.

We have a short meeting with the staff to explain the situation and invited them to be part of the solution by participating in an improvement activity called Kaizen. They were happy to do something because although they like money, they wanted to spend more time with the family.

The laboratory performs on a daily seven major types of tests. One of them accounts for almost 70% of the daily demand. We focused our analysis on that test type. The staff draws a process map with the steps to complete that test. They also measured the time to complete the test and watched the process to identify waste.

We used 5S, a housekeeping and organization program to clean and organize the entire laboratory. The staff used a drawing of the facility layout to draw all the walking between steps of the process. They also measured the distance walked. Based on their observations and suggestions, we moved some equipment and tools to have them closer to where they need them. Just by doing that, they reduced the walking time by more than 50%, which reduced the test process time as well. Other benefits of this event were: 27% reduction in over-time, 52% reduction in total process time, and 30% more on-time test results released to the customer.

They need some help to move the equipment, but the investment was peanuts compared with the benefits. After the event, the customer noticed the improvement in the quality of service, and the team was able to rest better and spend more time with their family. I will keep using this example on future posts to explain in detail how we achieved the improvements.

You can have similar results by using continuous improvement as your strategy to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s have a good old conversation about how you can do it!

CI 101

How do you reduce operating expenses?

There are two ways to increase profits, to increase revenue or reduce costs. Operating expense is a common headache for business owners, are you one of them?

These days consumers have more choices and more information than ever. They know that with so many competitors, they have multiple options for the needed product or service. To survive and be successful in this environment, cost reduction is critical. How do you reduce operating expenses?

Unfortunately, when it comes to cost reduction, the first thought is to reduce team members. Another common idea is to cut materials cost by buying inferior quality. You can not afford to do anything that affects the quality of the service or product. The best solution to cost expenses is to identify and reduce waste.

Waste reduction has to be an everyday activity, it is not a one-time event. With the help of your employees, you can improve your business working with continuous improvement basics. The basic activities of CI are housekeeping and organization, waste reduction, and standardization. You know already what waste is, in the next weeks I will talk about the other two.

Assessment of your business processes to identify waste reduction, standardization and organization opportunities is the best way to improve. Do not start this process as an excuse to cut manpower. Reducing team members is not, and never will be a continuous improvement goal.

CI 101

How can you create changes in your business?

Often business owners see something that tells them that something different needs to be done. Perhaps it is a recurring problem or realizes that the business is not reaching financial goals. What is the solution? You need to identify what areas need change and prioritize. How can you create changes? There are two major ways to create change: innovation and continuous improvement.

More often than not, innovation is a high-cost solution. While it is necessary to keep yourself ahead of the game, I like to start somewhere else. My first stop in creating improvements is to use common sense, low-cost solutions.

What are common-sense solutions? It is to approach a problem using good judgment. For example, let’s use one of my favorite low-cost tools: housekeeping and organization. Will you agree that keeping a clean and organized workplace is common-sense? Why do you think it is? Perhaps because you know some of the following facts:

  • Clutter and disorganization are against productivity, reduces the ability to concentrate.
  • A messy workplace causes anxiety, stress, and has the potential to foster a negative state of mind, like feeling overwhelmed.

Your good judgment tells you that an efficient workplace is cleaned and organized. A lack of cleaning and organization is a visual indicator of inefficiency. You know that this condition has to change.

To improve housekeeping, you can buy a fancy computerized program or use a simple low-cost solution. Your new high-cost application will help you to create checklists, assign responsibilities and follow up on the cleaning activities. But it will not help you to ensure the workplace is clean and organized.

An alternative is to use 5S, a housekeeping and organization program. This program along with waste elimination and standardization are the basics of practicing continuous improvement. CI is about creating small changes using common-sense solutions that are easy to implement and follow. When you add up all those changes you will see a huge improvement in the overall performance of your business.