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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.

CI 101

What activities are critical to achieve the Kaizen goals? Employee involvement is key.

The focus of kaizen is quality, cost, and delivery.  To accomplish improvements in those areas there are a few activities that should take place on a daily basis.  Some of those activities are quality and safety management, cost and logistics management, and processes, products, and materials follow-up.  Other daily activities are the major Kaizen activities or pillars which are standardization, 5S, and waste elimination.

Kaizen or continuous improvement is a people’s based system.  It only works when there is active participation from the employees.  If you forget that the people are the heart of the lean-continuous improvement system, all efforts to implement kaizen as part of the culture will be in vain.

The activities mentioned in the first paragraph will be successful only if the company has a solid foundation of employee involvement elements or systems.  Those are teamwork, self-discipline, improvement suggestions, morale enhancement, and quality circles.

Respect is one of the most important principles of lean.  One way to show respect is by taking the time to develop the team’s skills.  They deserve to have learning opportunities to learn and practice. Kaizen focuses on hands-on activities rather than classroom instruction. In other words, it is an exercise of learning by doing. Continuous improvement uses a team approach, with people from different departments and organizational levels working together towards a common goal.  While working together, they learn new skills and acquire self-discipline together.  They also get to know each other as people, gaining an understanding of their differences, and building upon them.

These type of activities increases collaboration, engagement, and morale.  When learning and coaching are based on respect and genuine desire to develop the team skills to increase their knowledge and empower them with some decisions, the base or foundation for continuous improvement is solid.  Employee involvement activities are critical to achieving improvement goals in the areas of quality, cost, and delivery.

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What is Kaizen? What is a Kaizen Event?

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  In my post, Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement, there is a little history of how Kaizen was born.  Continuous improvement involves everyone in the organization, improving processes everywhere, every day.   

Since the goal of lean is to deliver to the customer the highest quality, at the shortest lead time, at the lowest possible cost, kaizen focus is quality, cost, and delivery.  Kaizen’s major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.  Daily execution of these three activities drives incremental improvement that brings dramatic results over time.

Daily CI is important to tackle small problems before they become big ones.  The inspiration for daily kaizen comes from observation of frequent deviations from the standard, or ideas to improve the process.  However, sometimes we have challenges that require a more methodical approach.  When that happens, a Kaizen event comes to the rescue.  Recurrent problems that affect productivity or KPI performance are a good candidate for an event.  

A CI or Kaizen event is focused on one problem or improvement idea at a time.  The goal is to accomplish dramatic improvements in 2-7 days period.  These are rapid events, short, and based on common-sense solutions with very low or no-cost at all.  The understanding of the problem, and kaizen planning are critical for success.  It is also important to standardize the way of performing kaizen, everybody should follow the same steps and document the execution of those steps in the same way.  A good method to ensure the problem-solving activity is standardize is using PDCA.

When it is done correctly, kaizen not only improve quality, cost, and delivery.  It also helps the heart of the lean system, the people.  It does so by eliminating safety hazards, simplifying processes, and teaching people how to identify opportunities, and improve their processes.  In my next post, I will discuss the general steps to perform a kaizen event.

CI 101

Do you still think that continuous improvement is not for you?

Some companies have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic much better than others, at least for now.  Over the past few weeks, I have seen and shared through my Twitter and Facebook accounts examples of how lean companies have handled the crisis.  The common denominator for all of them is they keep the focus on the same things, people, and customers.  They also use different continuous improvement tools to learn and adapt to the new normal in record times.  How did they do that?  Using lean thinking and not taking their eyes from the basic principles.

The term “lean thinking” was coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, it is used to describe the process of making business decisions based on the Lean Principles.  Womack and Jones book, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation presented and talked in detail about those principles. 

  1. Customer Value 
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate waste.
  3. Make the value-add steps flow.
  4. Let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. Continuous Improvement 

Since the first principle is to define value from the customer point of view, it is logical to start the crisis response looking at how value changed for internal and external customers.  As a leader, you are responsible for your employee’s health and well-being while they are working.  To provide a safer possible workplace, revise the value stream to identify how it needs to change, how the flow will be affected and corrected, and finally implement the changes.  While doing this, keep the communication with your employees and customers to make sure that you are adapting to their new needs and priorities.

Improving the process is an activity that never stops.  Every day new information comes out that makes it necessary to change something on the process.  Lean companies can face this challenge easier than others because they developed people to become problem-solvers. They focus on the problem cause and possible solutions using PDCA, 5 Why, and other tools.  It is better to have an army of problem-solvers than just a few people, or worst, just you.   

The heart of the lean system is people involvement, a highly motivated team continuously seeking the best way.  To keep the heart healthy, you need to maintain a respectful, free of blame, and honest work environment where the team feels they are being cared for, and their feelings and ideas matter.

I don’t know if lean or continuous improvement is the antidote against the economic crisis, we are living in.  Based on my experience, I know that it is better than traditional management, and it works for any industry, of any size.  Industries with a small profit margin, like restaurants, will benefit from this type of thinking more than anyone.  Changing the decision-making process and how you conduct business is a better route to become profitable and flexible.  

If you keep doing what you always did, you will get what you always got. Henry Ford

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How can I organize​ my books?

Some people keep a big collection of books, are you one of them? Chances are a few are from your university days. Part are reference books gather through your professional life. Some others are a reflection of your interests or hobbies, or those of your family. Do you know how to avoid clutter? How can you keep them organized?

Let’s start by taking a look at all the books you have. If you have books in different locations, go and find all and put them in one place. You want to take a look at them in the same place. Why? Because you need to visualize what you have to sort what you need or want to keep.

Before you start, think about how you want to organize the books. There are different ways to set up the library. You can organize to be functional by subject, author or alphabetically. If you want a clean look and don’t care about function, you can organize by color, size, or cover type (hardcover/paperback).

Sort the books grouping them following your selection. While sorting remove those that you don’t need anymore. In everyday words, you are going to declutter. I understand how attached we can be with our books. Books are sources of knowledge, friends in moments of solitude, and a way to travel in our imagination. Don’t feel bad, let them go, maybe somebody needs them more than you do. Giving books away to the local school library or a friend is a gift of love. Also, remember that you need to make room for the new. Here are some reasons to remove books from your collection.

  • Outdated reference books – encyclopedia, old programming language
  • Not relevant anymore – you don’t like zombies stories anymore
  • Condition – water damage, broken
  • Not going to read it again – it was ok, but not great.
  • Duplicates – different editions of the same book, bought a new one because you could not find where the old was.

After sorting, it is time to find a home for your collection. The perfect location is the one that works for you. If you have space and want to do it, you can keep all the books in a home library. If you don’t have space to keep all together, have small spaces throughout the house. It is always a good idea to keep things close to where you use them, for example, cookbooks in the kitchen, gardening books in the garden shack, and your favorite bedtime readings in the bedroom.

Dust the shelves and all the books before putting them in place. Use labels or marks to indicate location. For example, if you decided to organize your books by genre, you can label the area for each to make sure that all the family sees where each they go. Think about those marks on the libraries aisles.

Make a habit of checking from time to time if everything is in order. If something is not, communicate your findings to the family. Cleaning and organizing is a family activity. Also, schedule to sort through your books at least once a year. This way, you will avoid clutter.

With all your books organized, the entire family can see what they have available. The hassle of looking for the specific book needed to complete a project or a school assignment is gone.

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

What is PDCA?

Have you ever tried to solve a recurrent problem over and over without success?  Do you remember everything you tried?  How much time do you spend on defining the problem?  Do you understand what the problem is?  Do you understand the process you are trying to fix?  Maybe, part of the problem is that you don’t have a method for problem-solving.

The PDCA cycle is a problem-solving methodology applied by many organizations in different industries.  Remember when you were in school, and you learn in science about hypothesis and experimentation?  PDCA is a way to test different theories in a controlled environment.  It is based on the scientific method, a process used by scientists to test whether any statement or theory is accurate.

PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act.  There are a couple of variations or names for it, like PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act), Deming Wheel, and Shewhart Cycle.  The cycle is a four steps model for problem solving and processes or services continuous improvement.  Below is a basic description of each step.

After you recognize an opportunity for improvement or a problem, you start with the first step, Plan.  As the name indicates, during this step you plan the activities and set the goals for your experiment.  It is important to understand the situation and analyze the problem, or opportunity before developing theories about what the issues may be.  As soon as all this is clear, decide which one to test. 

During the second step, Do, you test the solution.  You carry out a small-scale study by completing the planned activities, including measuring the results.

In Check, the third step, you study or analyze the results, and decide if the hypothesis is correct or not.  What did you learn?  Did you accomplish the objectives or goals stated during the Plan step?  

The last step is Act, where you take action based on the previous step learnings.  If the objectives were not accomplished, you need to go through the cycle again.  If the test was successful, use what you learned to improve the process.  While implementing the solution, do not forget to change the standard work and communicate the changes to the team.

PDCA provides a standard method for problem-solving.  While you document each step, you keep a map or journal of everything you tested so far.  You know without guessing what works or not.   PDCA is simple to follow and is an excellent tool for any kind of improvement activity like, designing a new product or implementing changes in a process.  With PDCA, you will not find yourself scratching your head trying to remember what you tried before.

CI 101

What can I do for my business now?

These days we are living a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Uncertainty is the word of the day, every day.  Anxiety levels are higher than ever, everybody is wondering what is going to happen when the pandemic is over, and we go back to our “normal” lives.  For small business owners, there is one question constantly bouncing inside our heads.  Would I still have a business?   I don’t know the answer to that or many other questions, but I do know what not to do.

I know that this is no time to waste my energy thinking in all the what if.  There is nothing to gain but more anxiety, trying to imagine a world where I do not have the means to bring food to my family or pay for our house.  I also know that in difficult times it is worth focusing on the positive things.  

What is positive about this pandemic?  For one we have time to do those things that we always say, I love to have time to do.  Of course, things that we still can do within the social distancing and CDC parameters.  It is a good time to pick up that hobby or home project you never have time for.  It is also time to clear your head and separate yourself from the challenges coming ahead.  It is important to recharge before you can focus on the fight ahead.  One thing is sure, the economy, will not be the same when we reopen for business, we have to be prepared.

Focus your attention on all the positive things you can do to strengthen your operation without investing more money than you are right now.  Here are a few examples.

  1. You can do virtual networking to get in touch with your old contacts to say hello and make new ones.
  2. While you reach out, does anybody need your help?  Collaboration is a good way to create long relationships, a network of people that can help when you needed the most.
  3. Read a new book, learn, and change what you can. 
    1. What your customer reviews in social media are telling you?  What do you need to improve?
    1. Do you know your customers well enough to anticipate if their needs will change?  Create a new marketing plan using social media.
    1. Analyze your business performance and assess your business.  What do you need to improve?  There are several applications that you can use to communicate with your team and work together on improvement ideas.
  4. Learn about the different programs and aids the Small Business Administration and local governments are offering.
  5. Revisit your business plan and update it.  Adopt a new strategy, set new goals, and prepare a plan in tune with reality.

I humbly suggest that you read about continuous improvement and how it can help you to navigate through the storm.  Lean was born in a time of need; Toyota was facing bankruptcy when Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno created it.  Continuous improvement is not easy or magical, but it has been proven to work in any industry, any size, anywhere.  At moments like this, it worth more than ever to try something new, like CI.

CI Tools

What is customer value and how do you define it?

The journey to transform your business into a continuous improvement enterprise should start with the definition of value. The CI business management model defines the value of a product or service from the customer’s point of view. How much your product or service is worth for the customer? What are the expectations?

How do you find the answer to those questions? Only the customers themselves can tell you. There are a couple of ways to get their input, talking with them, or using social media. The best time for a conversation is right after they received the product or service. Ask about their experience. What do they like? Do they have any suggestions? Listen to what they have to say and watch their demeanor. Social media accounts are another way to receive feedback from customers. Review the comments and ratings often. You can also create polls to survey their opinion.

The information from these three different sources will give you the value definition from the customers’ point of view. Value definition is a critical piece to start your continuous improvement quest. You will use it to classify each process as value-added or non-value-added. Value-added activities are those that transform input into output or change materials or information. In other words, the customers are willing to pay for it. Everything else is non-value-added or waste.

When you go to a restaurant, you expect to receive on a reasonable amount of time the plate you ask. You also expect that the staff follows any special instructions like cooking the meat the way you request it. You will pay for the food and the service without hesitation. If the restaurant messed up with your plate, that is a defect. Now they have to prepare a second plate, which is overproduction. Both things are waste or non-value-added activities. I bet that you, the customer, are not willing to pay for them.

Businesses need to complete various processes that are critical for operation but do not add value to the customers. Examples of necessary non-value added activities are hiring, payroll, and month-end financials.

The entire flow from the customer order to product or service received is drawn using a value-stream map (VSM). VSM is a special type of flow chart where you can visualize the flow of information and materials. This map is a tool that allows you to see waste and plan how to eliminate it. How to create a VSM will be the subject of a future post.

The priority of continuous improvement is to eliminate waste. Waste elimination will create faster and bigger results. Second, it is to challenge and reduce the necessary non-value-added activities. Minimize the quantity of non-value-added steps will further improve flow and reduce costs. Finally, you will work on optimizing value-added steps.

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.