Posts Tagged SDCA

Respect the Process

We’ve all undoubtedly had the notion of respect for people drilled into our heads. Of course, it’s easy to speak about such a principle. Much  harder to live it.

In any event, let me humbly add another recipient of our deserved respect.


First, a distinction, it’s not THE Process, meaning we are not talking about one single, special process that is elevated above all others. We’re talking about ANY process within our value streams.

OK, you may be thinking, why would we respect a non-person or non-entity? And how would we render such respect?

Why?respect process 2

  • Every process, standardized or not, should be respected at least to the extent that we must grasp what it is (admittedly difficult if it is not standardized) and the reason for its very existence. How many times have folks eliminated or changed a process without understanding what problem it was trying to solve in the first place, only to find that their rash “improvement” was counterproductive?
  • Basic respect is extended to people because of their inherent human dignity. A standardized process has a certain inherent value in that it provides, if nothing else, a starting point for improvement. Think back to your last time you (improved and) standardized a previously non-standardized process. Hard work, but it established a critical foundation for the next kaizen activity. As Taiichi Ohno (and Henry Ford, previously) is credited with saying, more or less, there is no kaizen without standard work. Implicit with this concept is that the proper use of standardized processes readily reveals abnormalities, which is the feedstock for problem solving.
  • Standardized processes, until improved yet again, represent the best way for the organization to do things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Why wouldn’t we respect that?
  • A standardized process represents, if established properly, the genuine PDCA and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) efforts of a number of folks. We need to respect their hard work, courage, and creativity.
  • And then there’s the slippery slope of inconsistency. If we pick and choose which processes receive respect and which are casually disregarded, the discipline and scientific thought that is so necessary for effective lean transformations goes up in smoke.


  • PDCA. It’s difficult to respect what you do not understand. Good old fashioned PDCA requires the lean practitioner to grasp the situation. The plan portion of PDCA calls us to understand and compare what is happening versus what should be happening and what we know versus what we don’t know. In other words, we should not willfully further process ignorance.
  • SDCA. SDCA is about ensuring, via audit, that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient. This assumes an organization-wide discipline to follow the standardized work and a leadership obligation to reinforce adherence and, in the event of lack of adherence, determine the reason why and the help develop and deploy an appropriate countermeasure. Sometimes lack of adherence is driven by one or more of the following: the process is insufficient, a better way has been adopted (and should be reflected in updated standardized work), insufficient training, willful disobedience, etc.
  • Patience. Standardized work needs to be lived with for some measure of time before changes should be experimented with and/or instituted. I’ve witnessed folks “trying” standardized work that was SDCA’d in an identical process from another location immediately dismiss it as insufficient (compared to their organic, non-standardized work) and then desiring to change it or just plain ignore it. Here, we suggest reasoned “tasting before seasoning.”
  • TWI. If we truly respect the process AND the person, we will effectively instruct the worker so that he understands the how and why of the process and we will verify that he can consistently execute the process. TWI’s job instruction program, for example, provides a time-proven approach for doing just that.
  • Andon. Workers must be empowered and expected to pull the andon when they cannot maintain the process and/or the process is deemed insufficient. In turn, workers must expect lean leaders to respond to the andon pull, escalate when necessary, and ultimately facilitate problem solving.

In short, respect the process and it will respect you.

Related posts: Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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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


Leader Standard Work and Plausible Deniability

Truthfully, the only times I have ever heard the term “plausible deniability,” other than my own frivolous use, is in movies or TV shows about clandestine operations and the like. Wikipedia says, at least for now,

Plausible deniability refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible…

Sounds spooky, no pun intended. In a lean environment there’s no place for plausible deniability. It’s all about transparency and the ability to identify abnormal conditions and, not to be redundant, opportunities.

Leader standard work is SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) in action. It seeks to determine whether standards are being adhered to and whether they are sufficient – very important stuff when you are to trying to sustain lean gains and develop a lean culture.

We all know that good leader standard work is supplemented by good visual controls – ones that enable “drive by” ease to determine normal versus abnormal. What some folks unfortunately don’t comprehend or want to comprehend is that leader standard work is redundant or “nested.”

A supervisor or team leader’s leader standard work may represent as much as 50% of their time on the job. A next level manager 30%. A value stream leader (i.e., plant manager) as much as 20% or so. Is each level’s standard work totally different? No! There’s redundancy. The frequency and scope may differ, but the checker, and the checker of the checker (and so on) is being checked at multiple levels.

This may sound like muda. But, in lean we often rely upon “human systems.” Human systems are fragile in nature and therefore need rigorous support and maintenance. This rigor requires direct confirmation. Are you more inclined to properly execute your assigned tasks if you know that someone is going to be auditing your work and your area of responsibility – in person?

Indeed, while leader standard work must include the superior checking the subordinate’s leader standard work document to, among other things,: 1) ensure that it has been completed in a timely manner, 2) identify what abnormalities have been identified (and whether they are of a repeat variety), and 3) the sufficiency of the subordinate’s countermeasures, it also must include direct observation. We, like Taiichi Ohno, must prefer facts over data.

The superior’s leader standard work must also require him or her to go to the gemba and for example, ensure that the operator(s) is working in accordance with standard work – steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard work-in-process. Anything less than that and we’re in the plausible deniability realm, taking the “word” of the second hand information and never verifying…even though we may have more than an inkling that the system is breaking down. “Hey, my subordinate was checking that in their leader standard work…”

It’s not that we shouldn’t trust people, we just need to be good lean pragmatists. We need to model the proper behaviors and actively lead and coach. Good leader standard work, and thus SDCA, does not co-exist with loose and informal chains (of command). Nothing deniable there.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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The War Room – More than an Interior Decorating Statement

Several weeks ago, a client mentioned that they were planning on establishing a “war room,” but did not especially like that name. I suggested “transformation room.” It’s a little less militaristic (not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps a little over the top within healthcare) and more descriptive relative to its purpose.

Here are a few things to think about when contemplating a war room.

Purpose. In a nutshell, the war room’s primary purpose is to establish and sustain effective organizational focus on the stuff that’s required to transform its performance and culture.  The focus must be intense, specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bounded. By definition, it must encompass both PDCA and SDCA, meaning breakthrough improvement, daily kaizen and sustainability.

Audience. The notion of “room” infers that its users are small in number…maybe elite. Well, the war room should be worn out by the executives, but it shouldn’t necessarily be an exclusive place (unless a war room is dedicated to working out some especially sensitive issues, like organizational design decisions). In fact, if at all pragmatic, the room should be in a high traffic area. Hence, the “room” for some lean companies has become a “glass wall” – a physical, transparent wall, which sports the information for all to see and demonstrates leadership’s competent and credible commitment to the lean transformation.

Contents. What’s in the war room? Charts, graphs and solemn statements that drive/share:

  • clarity in the enterprise’s vision, mission and purpose,
  • the identification and recognition of the current condition,
  • articulation of the desired future state and the gaps between current and future state,
  • the execution (and the adjustment, as required) of detailed gap closure plan(s),
  • safety, quality, delivery, cost, innovation, and morale performance,
  • countermeasures, their ownership and status, and
  • recognition of victories, large and small

We’re talking about strategy deployment matrices, bowling charts, A3 reports, current and future state value stream maps, value stream improvement plans, top tier performance metrics, posted top leader standard work, task accountability boards, etc.

Context. The war room, by itself, is just a room with lots of paper on the wall. Its value is derived by the structured engagement of the lean leaders in and around that room – the focus, application, execution, learning, and adjustment within frequent strategy deployment checkpoint meetings, daily tiered meetings and the like. The war room represents the top tier within a multi-tiered lean management system.

The war room is clearly more than an interior decorating statement. What’s your take on the room?

Related posts: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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How to Audit a Lean Management System

The lean management system (LMS) is an integral part of an effective lean business system. It’s critical to the development of a lean culture and the sustainability of hard-earned improvements. In simple terms, it is really hard to live SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) without it.

So, how can you quickly tell whether or not an organization’s LMS  (not to mention its lean effort) is the real deal or not? Well, no surprise – you audit it!

A well-developed LMS is, by its very nature, easily audited. And lean leaders should make it a point to do this on a routine basis. Here’s some quick and simple ways:

  • Leader standard work. Review samples of recently completed leader standard work. Check them for completeness, recurring issues and problems, and evidence of good lean thinking in determining countermeasures. And, oh by the way, if there aren’t any (or many) abnormal conditions identified, look at that with some professional skepticism. As the saying goes, “no problem is a big problem.”
  • Gemba walk. Walk the gemba with leader standard work in hand to determine its sufficiency and to observe, firsthand, the state of the gemba. When a senior leader conducts a gemba walk with his team, tag along. Observe whether they follow gemba walk standard work relative to attendees, timing, path, audit points and criteria, rotating “deep dives,” conclusion/reflection and countermeasures. Assess the thinking, understanding, participation, sense of urgency, evidence of improvement(s), coaching, chastising, questions, answers, etc.
  • Daily accountability meetings. Attend tiered meetings to determine the sufficiency of and adherence to the standard meeting agenda, while also assessing the level of the leader and the team’s engagement, understanding, lean thinking and real countermeasures, both immediate and planned.
  • Tiered meeting boards. Review the various supporting visual boards to assess the actionability, relevancy, timeliness of the performance measures and their trends. Also, check the type and status of the assigned countermeasures and employee suggestion activity, among other things.

A solid lean management system is “well-wired.” A lean leader should be able to quickly audit and discern whether the team, plant, division, office, etc. is practicing fake lean or is really and genuinely leaning forward.

Related posts: “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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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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Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

Several days ago, during a health care value stream analysis, I was impressed with the team’s bias for action. Now we know that value stream mapping is typically a “paper” activity, but it was refreshing to see that one of the future state’s kaizen bursts, identified as a “just-do-it,” couldn’t wait. The team completed the just-do-it right before the wrap-up presentation. Outstanding!

Kaizen is founded on certain principles, one of which is a bias for action. This bias for action is largely a behavioral thing, but it can be facilitated by effective coaching, formal training, and the application of lean management systems and related visual controls that should absolutely scream for action.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning my “short list” of kaizen principles (see the Kaizen Event Fieldbook), because I think we need to have a holistic perspective and because together they should drive the right kind of bias for action. I call this my 10 + 1 list. I’m pretty sure that other lean practitioners can make some  great arguments for a few more, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short.

  1. Think PDCA and SDCA, the basic scientific methods.
  2. Go to the gemba; observe and document reality.
  3. Ask “why?” five times to identify root causes.
  4. Be dissatisfied with the status quo.
  5. Kaizen what matters.
  6. Have a bias for action.
  7. Frequent, small incremental improvements drive big, sustainable improvements.
  8. Be like MacGyver; use creativity before capital.
  9. Kaizen is everyone’s job.
  10. No transformation without transformation leadership.

Plus – Do everything with humility and respect for the individual.

The combined dissatisfaction with the status quo (eyes for waste  “see” the current state and the ideal state) and the existence of explicit performance gaps that are targeted for closure (kaizen what matters) should be unbearable enough to drive action. And, our action should be focused on appropriately and economically (MacGyver was a creative cheapskate) addressing the root causes (5 why’s and PDCA thinking) and then sustaining the performance (SDCA).

So, I’ll leave you with another bias for action story, surprisingly also within a value stream analysis backdrop. Tony, the plant manager, was participating in a combined value stream analysis/plant lay-out/3P activity for a brand new line. As we developed pro forma standard work and were doing table top and plant floor simulations applying, among other things continuous flow, he had a eureka moment. Actually, I noticed that he was becoming quite agitated and then…he disappeared. Over an hour later, Tony returned. He informed the team that he couldn’t stand it when he realized that the same principles needed to be applied to existing lines. So, right away, he made sure that the other lines (granted, without standard work at the time) stop their evil batch and queue ways and go to single piece flow. By the next day, the old lines had demonstrated an 18% productivity improvement (and yes, this was sustained). Now, that’s bias for action!

Related posts: Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, Kaizen Principle: Be Like MacGyver, Use Creativity before Capital!

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Mark Hamel Interviewed by Business901’s Joe Dager

Joe Dager, an expert in lean marketing and founder of the Business901 blog, was gracious (and perhaps crazy?) enough to interview me last week. The interview is captured in a podcast and covers my SME published book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events.

Joe asked many excellent questions about how to sustain kaizen event gains…and hopefully, I provided some value-added answers and insight. We covered, among other things, topics like lean management systems and the specifics of leader standard work as well as the multi-phase kaizen event approach.

Please check out the podcast and Business 901’s social media release here.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel,Kaizen Event Supplies – Basic Stuff for Effective Events, Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – 11 Questions for Lean Leaders, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – Part II

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Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

wheel chocks picRecently, I added a new step to my kaizen event standard work. Just to keep the event team leaders honest, I not only require them to develop leader standard work related to the new “systems” that they have implemented during the kaizen (my old standard work), I actually now make them walk me through the leader standard work, printed and in hand,…at the gemba. This is typically done on a Thursday afternoon if it’s a five day kaizen event.

Yes, I am a pain in the neck! But, what happens if the leader standard work is not completed or completed and not sufficient? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s called backsliding. The PDCA wheel rolls backward!

All of the team’s blood, sweat and tears come to naught. Not a great way to sustain the gains. Not a good way to create a lean culture. So, we need to chock the PDCA wheel with leader standard work (and of course, the related visual controls that make the leader standard work “drive-by” easy). Leader standard work is part of standardize-do-check-act or SDCA. Leader standard work is part of a lean management system, along with visual controls and a daily accountability process.

What does the leader standard work walk through look like? Picture the lean coach or sensei following the event team leader as they refer to the documented leader standard work.

For example, the kaizen event team leader reads off the first audit area within the leader standard work – an easy one, a FIFO lane.  We stop here on an hourly basis at the “XYZ FIFO lane” and, “Determine that the FIFO lane is maintained.”

“Maintained?” What the heck does that mean? So, the supervisor/team lead comes by here each hour, looks and says, “Yup, looks good! Looks maintained!”?? No, I think we need to be much more specific, otherwise things will get lost in translation, the leaders won’t understand and they won’t ensure process adherence and then the system will break down. The leaders will routinely mark the audit step complete and never, ever identify an abnormal condition…even when there is one.

We need to define this leader standard work step a bit more. It might read something like, “Review FIFO lane to ensure that it is being maintained: 1) carts are being fed in a first in, first out manner, 2) the maximum quantity of carts (as reflected in the visual)  is not exceeded, 3) if the maximum quantity is met, then the upstream operation is no longer producing…” Now, about that visual control…

Now this may seem like overkill, but I don’t think so. This kind of rigor is especially important when a company is relatively new in their lean journey and the lean leaders are immature. Their leader standard work needs to be very specific.

So, how do you chock your PDCA wheel?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You Can Pay Me Now, or You Can Pay Me Later

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Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

leader standard work is work picThis may be a blinding flash of the obvious, but while leaders typically work hard, it’s a different type of work. Most leaders are engaged in a lot of firefighting. We need less of that and more work on ensuring process adherence and performance with more coaching and development. That’s where lean management systems, of which leader standard work is a major element, come into play.

The interesting thing is that leaders don’t necessarily like to do leader standard work. Implementing can be like pulling teeth. Why? Well, it requires a change in behavior, there is more rigor (when compared to the lots of meetings and fire fighting work style), there is a new level of transparency and accountability and there is the need to engage, coach, and sometimes confront others. Let’s explore these things a bit.


Most leaders have no problem with other people doing standard work. However, often their tune changes when it’s required of them.

Leader standard work specifies audit points and (sometimes) tasks. The audit points specify where and when in the value stream the leader must physically go, what they must check and the normal condition that they seek to verify with the aid of effective visual controls. This is a major part of their standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) role. The time spent executing leader standard work varies depending upon the leader’s  level and role within the organization. For example, a supervisor may dedicate as much as 50+%  of their day on leader standard work, while a value stream manager may spend 15% of their day.

A lean leader’s standard work, among other things, may require him to check a particular work cell once in the morning and once in the afternoon to ensure that the workers are maintaining their plan vs. actual chart (usually by hour),  and that specific and meaningful reasons for any shortfalls are documented. The lean leader may also be required to initial and write the time of their review on the chart as proof that they conducted this part of their leader standard work.

Transparency and Accountability

As in any lean environment, secrets are a bad thing. We want to be problem solvers, not problem hiders.

At the conclusion of a lean leader’s day (by a specified time), the leader should be required to insert their completed leader standard work form within a designated clear bin or sleeve posted in a prominent place. Their name and leader standard work deadline should be on the bin along with a red flag (or something suitably obnoxious) behind the bin, so that it is quite obvious who has met the deadline and who has not.

Similarly, on a daily basis, the next level leader should peruse the submitted leader standard work for completion, identified abnormal conditions and sufficiency of recorded countermeasures to address the abnormal conditions. The next level leader would do well to note certain things, for example patterns of incomplete audits, recurring abnormal conditions (guess we’re not getting at the root cause), lack of abnormal conditions (are we really being rigorous in our audits?), etc. and then coach their subordinates as required. Coaching can often be done in the context of one-on-one gemba walks.

Engagement, Coaching, and Confrontation

Guess what? If the application of the leader standard work requires us to go the gemba and make direct observations specific to conditions around process adherence and process performance, then there are going to be plenty of opportunities for genuine investigation, coaching and sometimes confrontation.

We always want to live the lean principle of respect for the individual. That is why when we encounter an abnormal condition we should ask why (5X). Our countermeasures and coaching should follow suit –  a worker’s lack of process performance due to a shortfall in training is handled much differently than if it is due to a decided case of worker apathy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but this powerful means of SDCA is worth it! What’s your experience been implementing leader standard work?

Related posts: Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

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