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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 are the kaizen steps?

Previously I mentioned that PDCA is a good tool to standardize the kaizen event.  Today I will show you the general steps to do a kaizen event and how to use PDCA.  The following are the general steps to plan and execute a kaizen event.

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Plan the event
  3. Learn about the current state
  4. Design and test the new process
  5. Validate the results against objectives
  6. Modify the process if necessary
  7. Once we achieved results, standardize, train, and communicate
  8. Make further improvements, start over.

We learn before that the planning step is critical for problem-solving.  It is because, during that step, you are studying the problem to understand in detail what is happening, which includes finding the root cause for the situation.  

It is similar while planning a kaizen event.  You start by understanding the problem or situation.  You need to describe the problem as detailed as possible using the affected KPI’s, the process name, and its description. The charter document is very useful for kaizen planning.  It is important to identify all the key information to make the event a success.  It includes the scope, objectives, expected deliverables, team members with their roles, event dates, location, and basic information regarding the problem to tackle. These two steps are the equivalent to the Plan step of PDCA, the next two are the Do step.

The third step is to establish the current state, to draw a picture of the process as is.  For this, you need to know the process, the first and last step, steps sequence, and standards.  You also need to know the customer needs.  The golden rule to fix problems is to go where the value is created, observe, measure, and ask questions respectfully.  Identify waste, where the flow stops, safety hazards or risks, and quality concerns. The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem.  While doing a kaizen, it is critical to understand the process, including the root cause of the problems identified.

Equipped with this information, you are ready to start designing the new process.  For this, start brainstorming possible solutions.  The target is to eliminate waste, improve quality, or reduce the cycle time.  Refine the list and select those ideas that are expected to have a bigger impact, and the team is able to do it during the allotted time frame.  Test the process, simulate the conditions of the new process, and measure the results.  Analyze the results vs. the objectives, validate if the process can achieve them.  Modify the process if you need, test, and measure as many times as it is necessary until the desired condition is reached.  If you noticed, this fourth step is following PDCA by itself, as shown in the figure below.

The kaizen step equivalent to Check is to validate the effectiveness of the new process.  The event is scheduled for one week or less, but sometimes you will have pending items that need to be finished later.  This step includes follow-up on the completion of those items.  It also includes a revision of the results to determine if the kaizen achieved its objectives.  Normally, this follow-up process happens 30 days after the completion of the event.  Similar to what happens in the previous step, if the new process falls short on the objectives, you follow PDCA to modify, measure, and adapt until the desired condition is reached.

The last step in the kaizen event is to evaluate the performance of the process.  Process monitoring should be part of the daily operation as well as discussion of gaps between standards and current results.  Daily kaizen should address problems in quality, safety, or delivery performance.  Remember, once the improved standard is stabilized, it is time to start the improvement process again.

CI 101

How do I prepare to reopen my business?

We are preparing to return to some kind of normalcy in our lives, including reopening our businesses. When we open the doors, the business situation will be very different from what it was before the pandemic crisis began.  You had a vision for your business and a plan to drive you there, but now everything is different.

It is time to sit down and reflect on the future.  The starting point will be to understand the challenges that are coming right to us.  With the help of your team, answer the questions below and then update your business plan.  Things like the sales forecasts, costs, and other assumptions will change.

  1. Reopening implies changes, what needs to change in your operation?  
  2. Do you need to invest in protective equipment, such as acrylic panels or floor markings? 
  3. What new recurrent costs you will have to fulfill new safety requirements?  
  4. How the market will change?  
  5. Do your customers would need something different? 
  6. Does your value proposition need to change?  

After adapting the business plan to the new environment, establish your new objectives and strategy.  Rethink your business strategy carefully, how you guide your decision-making process from now on can be your competitive advantage. 

Your business plan is your guide to the future you envision, but you also need short-term plans to prepare the operation for the new requirements.  What processes have to change?  Do you need to implement new processes to ensure your team and customers’ safety?  Does the work area need changes to adapt to social distancing?  How will you control traffic and flow?  

Many tools will help you to analyze, design and test solutions, PDCA is one of them.  To ensure everybody does the same thing standard work and visual management are important.  Sometimes there is no time for a long analysis, but you can still practice continuous improvement.  If you are not doing it already, build the habit to have daily meetings with your staff.  We call them stand-up meetings, or daily huddles.  

During them the team do a quick review of the operation the day before.  The key here is to ask two important questions, what went well and what needs improvement.  You want to discover the reason for the gap between desired and current state.  A quick 5 Why discussion can lead to simple solutions that can be implemented during the shift.  

From now on, the way to conduct business should be different.  This is the time to prepare yourself and your business for the future.  Given how fast everything changes with the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of the future demands good leadership, employees and leaders engaged in common goals and flexibility.  Continuous improvement and lean thinking promote that kind of behaviors. 

Focus on the things you can control, take a deep breath and start creating your future.  Be safe, stay well.

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Do you really want to go back to normal? Business as usual, will not going to cut it anymore.

These days you can hear the phrase when we go back to normal, dozens of times a day.  We all want to return to our normal lives, right?

As a lean practitioner, I believe that each event is a learning opportunity, the coronavirus pandemic is no different.  During these slower days, there is time to learn new things and plan for the future.  Lean is all about learning, experimenting, and adapting.  That is just what everybody needs to learn now.  Every day I read about how people are adapting to the new normal, and many are using lean or continuous improvement thinking without knowing it.  For me, at this moment, Lean style problem solving is the on-demand skill.

I am not the only one that thinks that way.  Last year, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), published Indiana’s Employability Skills Benchmarks.  It describes a set of 18 workplace skills recommended for success in today’s competitive workforce.  One of the skills identified in the learning strategies category is problem-solving.  

The way each business adapts the operation to comply with the CDC guidelines is unique.   The solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and on top of that, those guidelines change as they gathered more information.   Learning how to use a systematic process like PDCA and apply lean thinking is critical to identify and implement the new operational guidelines for your business.  

This situation catches most people without the skills to learn and adapt, but it is never late to start.  You are on time to start using lean thinking to approach the current challenges.  With practice, you can build that muscle memory that will guide you through times like this.  The new normal then should be something better than before the coronavirus pandemic.  It is like when you create the future state value-stream-map, imagine a better and stronger business and plan how to make it happen!  Many will go back to business as usual, your competitive advantage will be your new way to do business.

Better Process Solutions can help you to start designing your new processes, get in touch!

CI 101

Why Plan is critical for the success of your PDCA?

Monday, I talked about what the PDCA cycle is. Today I want to highlight how critical the step Plan is.

PDCA Cycle

Many times, while analyzing a problem, we don’t spend enough time understanding it. Instead of looking for the root cause of the problem, we start developing theories to correct the symptoms. If we create a plan to test possible solutions to the wrong problem, then the plan is doomed to fail.

The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem. Get the background of the current situation. Even when you think you know the process, ask why it exists. Check the capability, expected outcomes, and actual performance. What value does it provide to the customer? Research regarding any possible risks, policies or regulations that can affect efficiency.


You must spend time observing what is going on. Go to gemba, where the action happens. Observe for as long as you can, and take notes to compare against all the data. You cannot have the whole story if you don’t go and see it for yourself. Go ahead and talk with your team, the people who do the work. Respectfully ask questions to understand the situation from their point of view.

After you know the process, define the problem. What is the gap between the expectation or goals and the current results? Describe the current situation using data, charts, tables or diagrams. Use tools like the 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams to understand why that gap exists. It is critical for success that you identify the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, you will be working with symptoms and not the real problem.

Engage the team in the discussion of possible solutions. Go to gemba again and brainstorm with the people doing the work. If you find more than one root cause, rank them according to which has the greatest impact on the problem. At this point, you should have all the information you need to propose countermeasures or possible solutions. Tie your action items with the root cause while creating the plan. Who is responsible for doing what? How? Where? By when?

During this initial step, you determine the success of the PDCA exercise. You are trying to formulate theories to explain the gap between the standard and current performance, without the complete information, your theory will be wrong.

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.