Archive for category Scientific thought – PDCA/SDCA

Embrace Ugly

As best as I can recall, I’ve never coined a phrase with any staying power.

Until now.

And, my phrase has been purposely captured on a T-shirt, by someone other than a close relative. It’s not quite like having my words recorded indelibly in marble and situated in the Parthenon, but I’ll take it.

Enough gloating, what’s the phrase and what is its etymology?

“Embrace ugly.”

It’s a term that I have used frequently with a particular client. Frequently – as in multiple times per day, even multiple times per hour. I repeated the phrase, not only because of its self-entertainment value (yes, I do that), but more importantly to break the client’s paradigm.

You see, they were (note the past tense) chronic and debilitating perfectionists.

Now, striving for perfection is part and parcel of Lean Thinking (by way of Womack and Jones). The Lean Enterprise Institute lists the fifth step, “As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.”

However, the intent is to aggressively pursue continuous improvement – by frequently and rigorously spinning the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) wheel.

Perfectionists however have a very difficult time getting around the wheel and, in essence, missing the benefits of failing faster. Perfectionists tend to have their own version of the wheel, something like PPPPPDDDDD, or Plaaaaaaannnnnn, then Dooooooooooo. “C” and “A” are, often accidentally and ironically excluded from the perfectionists wheel.


Because after investing so much time planning and then investing in the perfect “Do,” (impossible, by the way) there is little time or money or will left to make meaningful adjustments. The victims (a.k.a. stakeholders) are often doomed to a life with less than optimal fixtures, equipment, facilities, etc.

How many times have you seen expensive underutilized stainless steel equipment, nicely laminated work surfaces that workers do not like, pricey, oversized extruded aluminum workstations, and flashy, but useless tooling? Stuff that unfortunately was not designed or developed with important things in mind like takt time, footprint, PM’s, flows (of people, materials, supplies, information, tooling, etc.), visual control and line of sight (i.e., can you see over and around it easily?), ergonomics, scrap, etc.

While lean folks apply 3P (production preparation process) concepts like 7 different ways and seek to down-select to the top three or so and then trystorm their way into the best using sub-scale and full scale models made of cardboard, plywood, and PVC, perfectionists are machining or building the perfect design in expensive materials.

In short, lean folks embrace ugly. They revel in trystorming, in learning, in rapid PDCA. Ugly is synonymous with the quick and the dirty.

Which is exactly why I kept repeating, “embrace ugly,” until my friends were repeating the same and then finally breaking away from the suffocating, expensive, lethargic legacy of perfectionism.

…and now, they’re wearing the words on their shirts.

A couple of quotes:

“Quick and dirty is better than slow and fancy.” – Taiichi Ohno

“A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented at some unspecified

time in the future.” – General George S. Patton

Related posts: Kaizen Principle: Be Like MacGyver, Use Creativity Before Capital!, Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions

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PDCA – So Simple, It’s Child’s Play [Guest Post]

I was recently working in Indonesia at one of the largest pulp and paper mills in the world. One evening we were invited to the company’s continuous improvement awards ceremony.

On a quarterly basis they recognize kaizen teams that have excelled.

Halfway through the ceremony, two girls from the local grade school took the stage to present the results from the kaizen event that they had led at their school…


In a simple and logical manner they explained how they followed Plan, Do, Check, Act.

The problem was congestion in the hallways between classes. This caused students to be late for the next class, damage to property on shelves, and, in a few cases, injury.

Through direct observation they documented the current state with “noodle” diagrams and time observations. They identified a solution and tested it. They made a few modifications and implemented the final solution with standard work and a method to measure results. The results were no one was late for class, and damage and injuries were eliminated.

Talk about humbling! GRADE SCHOOL!

I think of the excuses that I routinely hear; it won’t work for our problem/business, we do not have the time, it is too hard, no one wants to change.

Blah, blah, blah….

Remember that even kids are using PDCA.

Stop making excuses and go and fix something.

John Rizzo authored this blog post. He is a fellow Lean Six Sigma implementation consultant and friend of Mark Hamel.

Related posts: Guest Post: Beyond Toast Kaizen – Lean Breakfast Concepts, Circa 1937, “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!

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Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning

During a recent trip to the great state of Texas, I heard some down-home wisdom, “Before you season your food, why don’t you taste it first?”

The person who uttered that question was NOT talking about food. Rather, he was challenging someone who was a little too hell-bent on changing something without truly understanding it.

Sound familiar?

Heck, even etiquette folks will tell you it’s rude to season before tasting.

“If you season your food without tasting it, you will convey to the cook that you are already assuming the food will be bland and tasteless. It is more polite to taste food first and then add seasoning if you think it’s necessary.” (How to Season Food With Table Manners)

But, the point of this post isn’t about manners…as important as they are.

It’s about standard work.

People are relatively quick to pick up on the notion of kaizen – making things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Self-induced kaizen is fun, even freeing.

It’s better and more fun to give than to receive.

Of course, improvement without standardization is stillborn to say the least.

No doubt, we have heard the Taichii Ohno quote, “Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” Standard work implies that there must be adherence. Without it, it’s more like a standard wish…as fickle as the wind. We can’t sustain improvements and we have little foundation for the next.

However, adherence, especially when “virgin” standard work (you know, that first step from the wild no standard work west days) is introduced, requires folks to often significantly change the way that they do work – new steps, sequences, cycle times, standard WIP, etc.

It can be hard learning a new way. It can be frustrating. It can feel limiting. But, it ensures that people are working to the current one best way…until it is improved again.

So, here’s the rub (pun intended).

How long does one need to go before they start adding seasoning?! How long before the standard work should be subject to improvement?

We know the likelihood of any given standard work being perfect is essentially ZERO. It’s one reason why we apply SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) – to assess not only adherence, but the sufficiency of standard work.

Improvement should follow.

But, try this scenario on for size. Standard work has been developed during a pilot, regularly subjected to improvement over a period of many weeks. It’s been battled tested and has facilitated significant, measurable improvements in productivity and quality. Then, it is introduced to another line or location, with an appropriate application of change management. (Hopefully, this includes the rigor of a net change activity to understand and compensate for any true differences in the adopter’s value stream versus the pilot’s…)

The next line or location quickly goes from no standard work to adopting the new standard work. It’s painful. Within minutes the new adopters think, “I don’t like this.” It’s not “sufficient.” It plain old su*ks.

Not long thereafter, the new adopter folks start thinking about seasoning, about “improving” the new standard work. Hey, I tried it for a day, time to exercise my Ohno-given right to kaizen. Almost, an “it’s my ball, and I’m going home…with it,” type of mentality.

So, here’s a question for you – how long should someone taste the new standard work before they are genuinely ready to consider seasoning it?

I’ve got my thoughts. What are yours?

Related posts: Standard Work Is a Verb, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Lean Decay Rate


Animated Cartoon: “What’s the Problem?”

A couple of weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal article covered how many folks are creating computer-generated cartoons. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!” Whether or not I should is a different matter altogether…

Well, I took a shot at a hopefully instructive animated cartoon around problem-solving and what I see as one of the biggest challenges to effective problem-solving.  Let me know if any of this seems familiar.


Guest Post: 5 Reasons You Need to Do a DMAIC

John, the Production Manager of a food manufacturing plant is having a good day.  At least until the Quality Manager bursts into his office:  “John, I can’t believe that your operators can’t put a seal on a jar.”

John is surprised and replies, “What are you talking about, Steve?  We haven’t had to put product on hold for seals for months.  I told the team that they better be careful when adjusting the sealer during the change-overs after the last issue.”

Steve isn’t patient with John, “Well, where have you been?  Everything you made last night is on hold.  First shift found it when they did their first quality check this morning.”

John replies, “Just when I thought I could get some work done” and wonders what went wrong this time…..

John and his team have been down this road before.  The team has a major quality failure and goes into crisis mode.  Someone has a great idea on how to solve the issue and it is implemented right away.  The trouble is that the solutions are often superficial.  Other times it only addressed one issue when in fact there are several root causes.  In any case, the idea really is not adequate.  Everyone pays extra attention at first and they don’t have any repeat issues thanks to everyone’s extra diligence.  People forget in time though and start to focus on more pressing matters.   Before you know it, the team has another major quality failure.

“Hey, Steve.  Why don’t we do a DMAIC to solve this seal issue once and for all?”

John has learned from the school of hard knocks that superficial answers don’t solve complex issues. He knows that it takes time and resources to do a DMAIC properly but is starting to see the value of such an investment.

So what is a DMAIC?  DMAIC is part of a Continuous Improvement process known as Six Sigma.  Bill Smith, a Naval Academy graduate, formulated Six Sigma at Motorola. Motorola won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award just two years after implementing the new Six Sigma process.  Smith was inspired by the work of Dr. Edwards Deming and other pioneers of the Quality movement.  Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle clearly influenced the DMAIC process.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Deming circle, also known as...

Image via Wikipedia

The DMAIC process consists of the following steps:

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Improve
  5. Control

The PDCA and DMAIC cycles are very similar in practice.  The Define, Measure, and Analyze steps of the DMAIC process fit nicely into the Planning step of the Deming Circle. The DMAIC Improve step is virtually the same as Do and Check of the PDCA.  The Control step of the DMAIC overlaps with both the Check and Act steps.  The DMAIC includes doing a risk assessment to prevent backsliding at this point.

There are several benefits to the DMAIC process:

  1. DMAIC’s can solve complex issues. It is very difficult to solve complex issues with simple problem solving tools.  It is unlikely that you would solve each root cause of as such an issue without a process like PDCA or DMAIC.
  2. The DMAIC process is a structured and proven process. Would you rather use a process with documented results or go with your gut feeling?
  3. The structure is good for high risk issues. Without structured implementation, you are likely to have the issue return when an operator decides to do it their way or a new operator doesn’t get the word on the new procedure.
  4. The process will find the root causes and effective countermeasures when done properly.  The process uses Pareto Diagrams, Cause & Effect Analysis, 5 Why Root Cause Analysis and other proven tools to identify the root causes.
  5. The DMAIC process is designed for sustainable results and makes improvements part of how we do our work.  The DMAIC process calls for written documentation of the standardized improvements.  The process also calls for a risk assessment to determine what could prevent the improvements from being sustainable.  Armed with that information, the team develops countermeasures to ensure the long-term success of the process.

John and his team are ready to tackle a DMAIC to solve their issue with improper seals. Is the DMAIC process what you need to solve issues in your process?  If you are willing to invest the time required to really solve your complex and high risk issues, then the answer is yes.

Go to So What is a DMAIC Anyway? to learn more.

Christian Paulsen, an Executive Consultant with a passion for Continuous Improvement, authored this blog post.  Christian’s experience includes the use of Lean principles and tools in Food and Beverage manufacturing plants. Prior to consulting, Christian served as an officer within the US Navy, followed by key roles within Frito-Lay, Unilever (Lipton), and Nestle USA as well as smaller private manufacturers.

You can read Christian’s blog at or connect on LinkedIn.

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“Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”

Mark Graban has been gracious enough to allow me to guest blog on his LeanBlog – probably the granddaddy of all lean blogs. I hope  that you find my post on PDCA value-added. I know what you’re thinking, “PDCA…again?!?” But, there’s at least a little bit of new insight here. Plus, you may be curious about the connection between lean and Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi…

Related post: Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

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Without Defined Criteria, (Almost) Everything Looks Good

Whenever we undertake the (re)design or (re)development of a process, product, system, layout, tool, visual control, etc. (you get the point), it’s usually a good idea to define the criteria for the future state FIRST. The definition must extend to measurable performance or outputs – like cost, quality, lead time, etc. Similarly, the criteria should also extend to the characteristics, the “whats” and “hows,” of the future state. For example, we may determine that the new layout has to, among other things, facilitate visual management and natural work team co-location.

Without this clarity around performance and characteristics, it is difficult to understand “what good looks like.” We need to start with the end in mind. It’s part of the P, within PDCA. Absent clarity, an individual, team or organization is at risk of ginning up some options and then justifying later why one or more is good. This approach is not acceptable…unless of course it’s around something very trivial, like ordering lunch.

Furthermore, especially in a team environment, if the criteria are not articulated in a public and visual way (flipcharts, Post-It notes, whiteboards, etc.), there is no way for the team to discuss,  test, debate and reach consensus on those criteria and ultimately share and own the vision. Just think if we asked a team to go ahead and design a dream house without a shared vision. Without any definition, one person would be envisioning a mountain top retreat, another a beach side mansion, another a richly appointed brownstone in the city…

So, how do we go about defining what good looks like? If we’re talking new products, there are a host of lean design tools that can be applied individually or systematically, including: quality function deployment, must/should/could prioritization and the “seven-alternatives” process (a technique of 3P). Ron Mascitelli’s work, The Lean Design Guidebook is an outstanding reference in this area.

Keep in mind that the level of effort we invest in the process of articulating design criteria should match the importance of the task at hand, related risk and how pragmatically we can take something subjective  and make it quantitative. So, for example, if we are doing a quick seven different ways application for the design of a pacemaker scheduling system in a mixed model environment with demand coming from both a supermarket (make-to-stock replenishment) and make-to-order kanban, the criteria may include: visually controlled, kanban cards as visual artifacts, maintained by group leader, reflect status of required changeovers, etc.  This criteria will probably be sufficient for a team to pursue the seven different ways,  make trade-offs, down-select to three or so for trystorming and eventually and quickly converge on one best way (for now).

We can get fancier with Pugh Methods, weighted averages and the like. The important thing is to match the intensity to the challenge and to never violate the principle of first articulating the criteria. If we don’t follow that principle, we’re doomed to unthinkingly creating something and then putting lipstick on it later. Heck, then we could move to D.C.!

Related post: Model Lines – Federal Government Take Note

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Show Your Work

Remember back when your math teacher told you to “show your work“? There were good reasons for that, not the least of which was the fact that your teacher wanted to know if you were thinking, what you were thinking, and how you were thinking. The teacher wanted insight into whether you were grasping the concepts…and not just dropping a number or two on the paper. Ostensibly, showing your work assists in the learning process. It also keeps the student honest and should help them determine themselves whether their “logic” holds water.

The same holds true in business and continuous improvement. Kaizen activity rigorously employs PDCA. The “P” within PDCA represents the act of planning, which is founded upon a rather firm understanding of the current reality. The current reality, when compared (implicitly or explicitly) to an envisioned leaner state, should manifest the gaps, problems, issues and opportunities. From this perspective, the lean practitioner can then move on and gain an understanding of the root causes and ultimately a “plan” as embodied in countermeasures. Do, check and act appropriately follow.

So, how do you show your work within the plan phase? Put another way, how do you understand the pre-kaizen situation? There are AT LEAST ten basic waste identification tools and eight basic root cause analysis and supporting tools.

Waste Identification Tools:

  1. Current state value stream map
  2. Process map
  3. 5S audit sheet
  4. Time observation form
  5. Standard work sheet
  6. Standard work combination sheet
  7. % Load chart
  8. Process capacity sheet
  9. Setup observation analysis work sheet
  10. Operations analysis table

Basic Root Cause Analysis and Supporting Tools:

  1. 5 Whys
  2. Cause and effect diagrams
  3. Check sheets
  4. Concentration diagrams
  5. Scatter diagrams
  6. Histograms
  7. Pareto charts
  8. Process failure modes and effects analysis

These  different tools, to which we can certainly add the left side of the A3 form, are part of the work of the planning process. They help facilitate the process of grasping the current reality and identifying root causes. They hone the practitioner’s thinking, shares his thinking, engages others in the process, invites constructive feedback, etc…and forces him to show his work, not only for his benefit, but also for the benefit of other lean learners. No cause jumping. No sloppy shortcuts.

So, just like in school, if you don’t show your work, you should get points taken off!

Related posts: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, The Truth Will Set You Free!

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Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work.

Today’s Wall Street Journal front page contained an article entitled, “Moment of Truth for Productivity Boom.” The article reflected on the fact that US productivity in Q4 of 2009 rose 5.8% – a perhaps unprecedented level of growth through a recession. So, one question is whether the largest portion of the gains came from, “hustle or brains.” It appears that employees who are fearful about job security may hustle a bit more than those who are not fearful. No kidding.

We know that fear can be a substantial motivator, but as the recession relents, it is not sustainable. That’s a good thing!

Lean is largely about the elimination of waste (think PDCA) and the standardization of improvements (SDCA). This notion includes standard work (a.k.a. standardized work) which is the best practice for a given process that is dependent upon human action. It provides a routine for consistency, relative to safety, quality, cost, and delivery, and serves as basis for improvement. Standard work is comprised of three basic elements: 1) takt time (and its relationship with cycle time), 2) work sequence, and 3) standard work-in-process.

Standard work is NOT developed to accommodate only those genetically superior, well rested, 99th percentile workers…or those who are so scared they’ll push themselves to exhaustion and perhaps injury and defects. That is not consistent with the lean principle of respect for the individual or the integration of improvement with work, for that matter.

The expectation is that standard work should reflect a steady, most repeatable, least waste way of working that also ensures safety and quality (one of the reasons you’ll see safety crosses and quality diamonds on standard worksheets). Of course, that’s not to say that the application of standard work, over and above the elimination of waste and the introduction of good technology, by it’s very prescriptive nature of steps, sequence, standard work, cycle times, etc. does not improve productivity. It does, and if people tend not to expect to work when they’re at work, then they may be in for a surprise. We should respect people enough that we expect them to work during working hours.

So, here’s to working smarter…and working!

Related post: Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes

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Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

trajectory picStrange name, “bowling chart,” but it’s a simple and powerful tool. It forces critical thinking around breakthrough objectives and facilitates typically monthly checkpoints that help drive accountability, PDCA and ultimately execution. When matched up with a Gantt chart (the combination is cleverly called a “bowling and Gantt chart”), it’s pretty cool stuff.

So, what’s a bowling chart? It’s essentially a matrix that, among other things:

  • reflects one or more metrics (i.e., productivity – parts/person/hour),
  • establishes a baseline or “jumping off point” (JOP) for each metric (i.e., 52 parts/person/hour),
  • ties the metric to a time-bounded target (i.e., 85 parts/person/hour by 10/31/2010),
  • interpolates the monthly targets (“plan”)  between the JOP and the final target,
  • easily and visually compares monthly performance (plan vs. actual) and highlights when a monthly period meets or beats the plan (shaded in green) and when it does not meet the plan (shaded in red), and
  • if lean leaders are doing their job, compels the “owner” of the chart and the related execution to generate a “get to green plan.” Think PDCA.

But the thing I would like to focus on right here is trajectory – the improvement path between the JOP and the final target. Many folks don’t even worry about the periods between these two points. This type of “focus” often produces the sames results as those experienced by high school students. Who cares about midterms…?

No interim targets, no chance for real PDCA. Think management time frame. Think pitch. The smaller the time frame, the more likely and quickly we will identify when we are drifting off target and the more responsive we can be in identifying root causes and applying effective countermeasures.

If your people are required to create bowling charts, whether it’s part of the strategy deployment process, A3 preparation or even value stream improvement plan creation, they have to think about trajectory. Improved performance is rarely linear. The bowling chart begs consideration of the implementation process, it’s timing and sustainability. Using the example introduced earlier, if the productivity improvement is expected to be largely driven by a kaizen event focused on standard work and continuous flow and that event isn’t happening until 2 months after the JOP, then the plan for the first two months after the JOP probably shouldn’t be too much different than the JOP.

The trajectory exercise is a good thing. It prompts deep thinking about implementation steps,  sequence, timing and impact. Talking trajectory with lean leaders and other stakeholders should facilitate some good “catchball” and help identify and address unreasonable expectations, timid expectations, resource shortfalls, etc.

So, oftentimes it’s not all about the destination, it’s also about the path…or the trajectory.

Related Post: Check Please! Without it, PDCA and SDCA do NOT work.

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