Archive for September, 2010

These Are Some of My Favorite (Improvement) Things

It wasn’t quite a Von Trapp family moment, but it certainly was a good lean moment. During a kaizen report-out, an associate was sharing several improvement ideas. You know the form reflecting the problem, action taken, impact and a before and after characterization of the situation? But, her introduction to her portion of the presentation was a little bit different than what I have grown accustomed to.

She started by saying, “This is my favorite improvement…” It resonated with engagement, empowerment and satisfaction. Her preamble grabbed the audience’s attention.

She and her teammates had accomplished great things in the areas of productivity, ergonomics, lead time reduction and the like. Along with that, they necessarily addressed a bunch of issues that routinely caused frustration for the workers within the target process. Things that got in the way of performing their tasks successfully.  Things that kept them from feeling like they were winning.

Her favorite improvement? It was one that enabled her and her teammates to quickly identify abnormal conditions and provide the insight necessary to knock down the root cause(s). She was looking forward to something that would further enable continuous improvement, now and in the future!

The plant manager and I chatted a bit after the conclusion of the report-out. Our mutual favorite thing was…the favorite thing. It was a “thing” that reflected much of the core of a kaizen culture.

Related post: Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people


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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Strategy – First Formulate, THEN Deploy

First things first, as they say. It’s hard to argue with such simple wisdom. That notion applies to strategy deployment, a.k.a. policy deployment, strategic deployment, hoshin kanri, hoshin planning, etc.

Yes, some folks jump right into the x-matrix with little or no strategy formulation. They’re itching for the “operationalization” of the strategy and the related focus, PDCA rigor, horizontal and vertical alignment and anticipated results that strategy deployment can bring (that, or they just want to check the lean implementation checklist item marked “strategy deployment”).

The problem is that this kind of haste or superficiality can get the organization into trouble.  Do we really want to be good at executing or trying to execute a flawed strategy? Of course not.

Whether or not your process uses strategy A3’s, there’s some basic strategy formulation building blocks that should be used to lay your foundation:

  • Core ideology. Articulate the company’s guiding principles. This includes the fundamental reasons for the company’s existence beyond just making a buck. The core ideology is typically captured in a statement of core values and purpose.
  • Vision. The vision statement should be a concise and vivid image of what the company’s stakeholders aspire the company to become. Often the vision statement contains a BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals). BHAG’s can be quantitative or qualitative (for example, Wal-Mart’s 1990 era BHAG was to become a $125 billion company by the year 2000), qualitative, common-enemy (Nike’s used to be something like, “crush Adidas”), role model related, etc..
  • Mission. The company should create a concise and vivid formula of approach for HOW the company will fulfill the vision.
  • Long range performance objectives. Here think breakthrough objectives that, if/when achieved will propel the company – hopefully well beyond its competitors. Long range for strategy deployment purposes is typically in the three to five year category.
  • Strategy analysis. This analysis should encompass and leverage the following:
    • Customer. The company needs to identify the existing customer set and their needs, expand the view of “customer” beyond the current limitations (understand the extended value streams, customers’ customers, etc.), profile key existing and potential customers, segment existing and potential customers and assess segment attractiveness.
    • Competitors. Good analysis includes identifying the existing and potential competitors (the obvious players, plus suppliers, buyers, substitute products and services and other potential entrants), as well as profiling key existing/potential competitors, analyzing market share, conducting SWOT analyses, understanding buyer and supplier group power and anticipating possible competitive responses to different possible company actions.
    • Company. The strategy analysis must apply a rigorous self-examination. This should include the characterization of the gaps between current state and the targets reflected in the core ideology, vision, mission and long range performance objectives. Competitive gaps must be considered as well and should make use of primary customer and industry feedback through interviews, focus group, surveys and the like. A company SWOT and critical review of the company’s fundamental resources (capabilities, brand reputation, key holdings, etc. to understand if they are difficult for competitors to replicate/imitate…or not).
    • Environment. The company must understand the current and anticipated environment and the possible business implications of various factors and trends, be they cultural, regulatory, technological, etc. in nature.

This certainly is not a comprehensive list, but it should make one think about the context within which strategy deployment should be conducted. Lean leaders can use all the x-matrices that they want and play catch-ball night and day, but they still need a firm foundation for good strategy formulation.

What has been your experience?

Related post: Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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Lean Behaviors Prompted by Transparency, Scarceness and Accountability

People behave differently when there is transparency, scarceness and accountability. For example, there can definitely be a different dynamic at an open bar where no one knows you (or really cares) and a cash bar at a function amongst august colleagues. I’m guessing most of you know what I mean.

Lean behaviors can often be facilitated by the same stuff. A group that I have been working with has implemented a simple, yet powerful improvement idea that illustrates this phenomena within their low volume, high mix business.  The improvement was instituted to help gain and maintain stability within their mixed model production kanban system. It also provides insight into the root causes that drive some of that instability.

It seems that representatives of the various downstream customers of the in-process kanban (no batch production in the upstream process, the kanban are satisfied in a FIFO manner) were frequently seeking to  move a given kanban to the head of the line…mostly because of their own mismanagement and other barriers. The reshuffle requests were as many as three per shift. It was like an open bar.

Leadership implemented a “passport” system. It’s not really novel, others have applied it. But, it works!

Basically, each of the four consuming departments (with many multiple cells) that are downstream of the kanban are limited to three weekly passes that they can exercise. Each pass entitles the user the opportunity to reshuffle one of the kanbans within the sequence. So, there are rules and there is a finite number of opportunities. No free-for-all here.

There is also also accountability and transparency. The unused passes are hung at a station near the supplying process’ production coordinator workstation. Triggered or used passes are inserted into a locked  lexan box so you can see who has been exercising their passes – the name of the downstream department’s production coordinator is printed on their respective passes. See the picture, below.

Oh, and not all passes are the same. They come with different levels of escalation and, perhaps, pain. The first pass is green in color – essentially a “freebie” that can be used for one priority reshuffle. The second pass is yellow in color and requires the supplying department’s manager to sign-off on the pass. This means that a conversation has to occur…with an explanation as to why the pass needs to be triggered. The third pass is red in color and needs the plant manager’s sign-off for it to be accepted. Few folks want to have that conversation – especially if the root cause is/was within their control.

Guess what? The operation is down to about three kanban priority moves per week and a lot less  volatility. The system works a heck of a lot better now. Transparency, scarceness and accountability have changed behaviors and provided further insight into other improvement opportunities.

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How to Avoid Kaizen Event Malpractice

I recently conducted a free one hour webinar on the subject of kaizen event malpractice, its causes, effects and how to avoid them. More positively, the topic was largely on how to side-step the snares of tool-driven kaizen, how to securely apply, grow into and sustain system-driven kaizen and ultimately set the foundation for principle-driven kaizen.

The webinar was graciously hosted by Society of Manufacturing Engineer’s Chapter 7 from Hartford, CT with the assistance of SME National. The SME webinar library link is right HERE if you would like to view the slides and listen to the audio.

By the way, my less than clinical definition of kaizen event malpractice is the “dereliction of duty due to negligence or incompetence by a leader, practitioner or organization.” Malpractice has a number of effects, including the following:

  • poor linkage to strategic and value stream imperatives
  • little or no measurable business impact
  • unsustainable results
  • unfavorable employee experience
  • limited organizational learning and growth, and an
  • insufficient foundation for daily kaizen.

I hope the webinar adds value for those who access the library.

In conjunction with SME National, I’ll be conducting a three-part webinar series on kaizen in October. Please refer to SME Webinar Central under the October 19 and 21 offerings.

Related posts: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, There Is No Kaizen Bus Stop!

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Kaizen and Chemistry

I recently experienced  the pain associated with coaching a team with poor chemistry. It was a kaizen event team, so the pain was finite. But there are team formulation lessons learned – whether it be a kaizen event team or any other continuous improvement oriented team, kaizen circle activity teams, mini-kaizen event teams, project teams, etc.

Teams need to be built around the mission, not the other way around. So, for example, when selecting kaizen event teams, our criteria should encompass a number of things. At the risk of being way too brief and broad brushed:

  • Representation. I usually like the “1/3 rule” – roughly a third of the members from the target process, 1/3 from upstream and downstream of that process and a 1/3 “fresh eyes.” We also need to ensure that representation includes more than a couple of folks who actually DO the work within the target process, etc. Keep the team multi-level and avoid putting the manager of the target process in the team leader role (and sometimes on the team at all).
  • Size. 6 to 8 folks is a pretty good rule of thumb. Less than that is fine if the scope is really heavy on analysis (i.e., kanban sizing), otherwise we most likely need to reduce the scope or expand the duration of the event or activity. More than 8 people and we risk losing team effectiveness.  In such a situation we should be thinking about sub-team strategies.
  • Technical competencies. A team should include folks who know the technical aspects of the target process. We also need at least several people, including the team leader, who have a good measure of kaizen expertise (process, forms, etc.).
  • Core competencies. Teams should be selected such that there is a good nucleus of work habits, attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to team effectiveness – for example, group facilitation, change leadership and self-management.
But, What About Team chemistry?!?

Chemistry is critical and, at the same time, a elusive. It’s something that we often “feel” our way through. Much of the time though, it really is not considered in an explicit way.

We’re going to get a little scientific here, but know that this is just to provide some insight into things we should be considering when selecting a team for continuous improvement activities. I’m going to refer to the DISC model of behavior, mostly because I think that it’s pretty straightforward…and I am familiar with it (but NO expert) .

The DISC behavioral model is based upon the work of the late psychologist, William Moulton Marston and provides insight into people’s work styles (within given situations). Again, basic knowledge of the model  and an understanding of different styles can be helpful when we consider how to optimize team chemistry, or at least try to avoid BAD chemistry, for a given team. I am NOT proposing that we have team candidates or teams take one or more of the DISC assessment tools that are on the market.

So, what does DISC stand for? It’s an acronym for a four-dimensional model with the following “pure” dimensions. No surprise, most people are usually a combination of dimensions. For example, a high D, low C.

  • Dominance. High D’s try to shape the environment by overcoming challenges. They generally seek to get immediate results, cause action, accept challenges, make quick decisions, take authority, solve problems, etc. They desire power and authority, prestige and challenges, opportunities for individual accomplishments and direct answers. They need others who are more likely to weigh pros and cons, calculate risks, use caution, research facts and the like.
  • Influence. I’s shape the environment through influence and persuasion. Their tendencies include networking, making a favorable impression, being articulate and creating a motivational environment. I’s like popularity and social recognition, freedom of expression and positive feedback. They can use the help of others who concentrate on the task, seek facts, speak directly and take a logical approach.
  • Steadiness. High S people achieve stability by supporting and cooperating with others to achieve goals. They typically perform in a predictable and consistent manner, demonstrate patience, help others and show loyalty. S’s desire an environment that includes maintenance of the status quo, consistency and predictable routines and clear goals and expectations.   S people need others who react quickly to unexpected change, stretch toward the challenge of an accepted task, become involved in more than one thing, apply pressure to others, etc.
  • Conscientiousness. C folks work conscientiously to ensure quality and accuracy. They tend to follow key directives and standards, concentrate on key details, think analytically, weigh pros and cons and check for accuracy. They like environments that have clearly defined goals and performance expectation, policies and SOP’s and, of course, value quality and accuracy. They benefit from others who delegate important tasks, make quick decisions and move toward action and use policies only as guidelines.

Now, of course people can have different styles in different environments and if stressed they can modify their styles. For example, stress a high C and they can move into high D territory, stress a high D and well, they can become more D (that can be scary), stress a high I and they can move toward the C quadrant. As a team leader or facilitator, inducing the right stress can be a useful strategy to improve team effectiveness.

A Quick Test for You

So, given the characterization of the DISC styles, take a look at the two team DISC “circles”  (A and B) and reflect on which team, all things being equal, would be more effective kaizeners. Each of the dots represent a team member. The star represents the team leader.

Now reflect on some your past teams. Is there anything that you would have done differently to improve the chemistry? Different team member selection? Perhaps induced more or less stress on the team?

Just trying to get you to think…

Related posts: Of Team Size, Social Loafing and Lack of Direction, Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed

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Labor Density – When Dense is Good

Labor density is not a measurement that is thrown around very often, at least explicitly. Conceptually however, it must be resident somewhere in the lean thinker’s headset. Hey, it was important enough for Taiichi Ohno to discuss!

Labor density is a measure of value-add intensity relative to total worker motion. The measurement provides insight into the extent that a worker’s motion transforms the materials or information (or in the instance of health care – helps the health or comfort of the patient) into something that is valued by the customer. Ideally, the labor density should be 100%.

The waste of motion, both physical (searching, twisting, bending, etc.,) and virtual (searching within a database, moving from computer screen to screen), consumes time and resources, but does not add value. While total work content is not necessarily limited to only motion, labor density can help highlight wasted motion whether it is an act of omission (motion that substitutes for real value-added work, like “apparent” work instead of properly securing the required three fasteners) or plain old, waste of motion.

The math:

  • Labor density = work / motion
  • Example:  If value-added work is 32” and total worker motion is 40” per cycle: 80% = 32” / 40”

Admittedly, the labor density measurement is not very sexy at all, but it should challenge us to more rigorously observe, identify and eliminate waste!

Related post: Musings About FIFO Lane Sizing “Math”