Archive for May, 2011

Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control

This past weekend I made a quick visit to see my parents. It was my mom’s birthday and a great opportunity to share some time with my ailing father. And there was a glimpse of some domestic lean

I was grilling steak and grabbed a knife to check the center. Yes, I know real cooks don’t do that. I am not a real cook.

Anyway, as I picked up the knife by the handle, there was something poking my hand. It was a twist tie!

I gave my mother an incredulous look. She explained.

Seems my father tends to put the wood handled knives in the dishwasher. High temp water bath and wood – not a good combination. So, my mother slapped a twist tie on the knife to remind him that it is not a candidate for the dishwasher (unless he’s the dishwasher).

Now, I usually prefer a more self-explaining control, but the gemba-based population within my folks’ house is pretty small. Overall, inventive and a little bizarre.

Visual and tactile control – zero dollars. Time with my folks – priceless.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings


Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

An effective lean management system, among other things, drives process adherence and process performance. The daily accountability portion of the system includes brief tiered meetings with the stakeholders.

At the tier I level, the core meeting participants are pretty much the natural work team (with hopefully key support people and rotating attendance by the manager(s)). You know, the folks who actually do the value-adding work.

The backdrop for tiered meetings is often a performance metric board, as supplemented by things like task accountability boards and thoughtful reflection on what is being seen by the leaders when they conduct their standard work.


Sometimes the performance metric board, its purpose, “story,” relevance and “actionability” are a mystery to the tier I stakeholders. It fails the “So what?” test. If it can’t pass that test, the meeting is muda.

How can that be?

Well, my experience is that it’s part of a lot of things, including part training and communication, part “presentation” (board design and execution), part change management, part performance management…and so on.

The categories of lean performance metrics are simple. True north metric families are pretty much quality, delivery, cost and human resource development. To that, you can add continuous improvement. Everything else is more or less a derivative from those families.

A performance metric board should answer relevant questions about the team’s balanced process performance within the value stream. Questions like, “Are we satisfying customer requirements relative to time, accuracy, completeness? Are we becoming more productive? Are we performing our work more safely?” And the answers should give us insight into the what, why, where, when, how and how many.

Often the focus is around the last 24 hours and the next 24 hours. But, we must care about trends, we must understand targets, and there has to be appropriate vertical and horizontal alignment within the organization. It’s all part of the dynamic of PDCA.

When performance metrics are a mystery, then we miss out on a whole dimension of engagement.

Assume that you’re a tier I stakeholder who has just been indoctrinated within the tier I meeting process. The experience too often goes like this (in your head), “Hey look, there’s a board…with lot’s of metrics on it. What does it mean? Heck, I can’t even read it. Too small, too many numbers. Where do those numbers come from? I don’t even think the team leader knows what it means. Why do we suddenly care about this stuff? What is the target? The leaders keep talking about the elimination of waste – this meeting is 10 minutes of waste, ‘Blah, blah, blah…'”

Take the Mystery out of It

Clearly, folks must be trained in the system and elements of the lean management system. This will provide a necessary foundation for understanding, application and change.

When it comes to team specific performance metrics, the training must be pretty deep for the stakeholders. Unfortunately, we often take short cuts here.

Instead, when metrics are under development (think PDCA), there must be a kind of precision to ensure that the critical few, balanced metrics do pass the, “So what?” test. In order to do this, consider creating a metric profile for each and every metric. The profile forces rigor and it can then be used to help train people on the metric itself.

Furthermore, the metric profile should be hung up on the metric board underneath the metric. Think of it as metric standard work. Update it as you clarify it and make improvements.

So, what should be included in a metric profile? Here’s some elements that I usually include:

  • Metric name. This one is obvious.
  • A picture of the metric. It helps to know what it looks like…or should look like – line graph, stacked bar chart, etc. It’s OK for the template to be computer generated, but the data, bars and/or lines, etc. should be hand drawn – the quicker to generate and easy to read from 10+ feet away.
  • Purpose of the metric. It’s very important to understand the “why” of the metric. For example a cumulative production run chart provides insight into the linearity/level production day over day.
  • Implications, a.k.a. the “So what?” To continue the example from above, if the cumulative production run chart reflects less than level production (here an upper and lower control limit can provide a target), then the leader should investigate the root cause(s). Potential root causes can include demand variation, overproduction, capacity constraints, etc. The implications follow suit.
  • Metric target. Good PDCA usually requires targets. Folks need to understand expectations and the magnitude of the performance gap(s).
  • Data source. It’s important to specify where the data reflected (directly or through calculation) within the metric comes from in order to ensure accuracy and consistency.
  • Calculation, if applicable. Many times data is taken directly from a report, stick count, etc. and posted/charted on the metric template. Sometimes the metric calls for a calculation using source data. For example, prior day productivity (number of units/person/hour) may require someone to take prior day output, divided by day staffing, then divided by hours worked. There should be no guess work on how to perform the calculation.
  • Frequency. Metric “actionability” typically calls for more frequent measures. Much of the time this means daily measurement, however, weekly and even monthly may be more pragmatic for less dynamic metrics (for example, employee satisfaction survey results).
  • Owner. It makes sense to specify the keeper of the metric so that there is no ambiguity. This does not preclude rotating the preparation and presentation of a given metric(s) on a rotating basis among meeting stakeholders to facilitate understanding and engagement.

What else should be on the profile?

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

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“Measuring” Kaizen Event Team Effectiveness: 7 Criteria

Every once and a while someone will ask me to (discretely) evaluate a kaizen event team’s effectiveness. I don’t necessarily relish doing that when it is intended for the purpose of team comparisons, but it’s not an unfair request from a senior leader.

Someday, I should probably try to pull the mystical sensei thing and ask them first what they think…and why.

The criteria that I apply is less than scientific. I don’t apply weighting between the criteria and I simply use a 1 to 5 score for each one, with 5 the highest. Really, the important thing is reflecting upon the meaningful stuff, learning and then improving.

My measurement criteria, in no particular order, with links to a handful of relevant prior posts:

  1. Waste elimination effectiveness. The notion here is about how well the team identified, acknowledge and then eliminated the waste within their target process. “W.E.E.” is driven as much by team aggressiveness as technical acumen. Lean Metric: Waste Elimination Effectiveness
  2. Projected sustainability. PDCA is one thing and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) is another. There’s nothing as painful as unsustained kaizen gains. They will sap the lifeblood out of a fledgling lean transformation. Gains must be “locked in” with standard work. Lean management systems are needed to drive process adherence and process performance and help facilitate further improvements. Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel
  3. Degree of difficulty. Not much explanation needed here. Scope, technical complexity and change management challenges run the gamut. Some events are easier than others.
  4. Kaizen rigor. Effective teams generally apply rigor around:1) pre-event planning (including linkage to strategy deployment, value stream improvement plans and the like, team selection, appropriate pre-work, etc.), 2) event execution (including event kick-off, team leader meetings, effective work strategies, and the PDCA-driven “kaizen storyline”), and 3) event follow-through. Show Your Work, How to Avoid Kaizen Event Malpractice
  5. Demonstrated application of lean principles, systems and tools. It’s a wonderful thing to see the simple elegance of well applied (and validated) standard work…and other lean tools, for that matter. System-level  (or sub-system-level…hey, there’s only so much that can be done during an event) application is even more impressive, for example pull systems, lean management systems, etc. Still more “transformative” is something that goes beyond just the “know-how” of tools and systems. Principles encompass not only know-how, but the “know why.” Teams that enter that realm are effective during the event…and well beyond. Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!
  6. Value stream/business impact. Kaizen events are often more about kaikaku than kaizen (small incremental improvement). While we would be mistaken to believe that this is and should always be the case, value stream/business impact should be considered when considering kaizen event team effectiveness.
  7. Learning and development. Kaizen events are excellent and intense laboratories for individual, team and organizational growth. Growth opportunities extend to the technical, teaming, leadership and change management areas and serve as a training ground for daily kaizen. And a final point as we recall Taiichi Ohno’s insight that, “Learning comes through difficulties,” the lack of gaudy event results does not mean a lack of development! Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

So, what did I miss?

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