This Lean Tool Will Have You Celebrating A Lot More Small Wins

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Well if a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…and a Lean transformation is a journey; then when do we get to celebrate? I think that’s what everybody’s really wondering. As with any journey, you can take the long, hard, and treacherous path, or the one that’s lined with beautiful flowers and breathtaking landscapes. Well I can promise you one thing, if you chose the former path, not everyone is going to make it – and that sucks – because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Lean journey is full of everyday small wins. For the same reasons we all ran out and got Facebook accounts and get so excited when pictures of the baby gets a million likes, those everyday small wins have an immensely powerful effect on our motivation and desire to take action. These small wins are vital assets for leaders to keep people engaged in the journey and motivated to keep going in the right direction; so its crucial that leaders handle them effectively. The challenge for you as a leader is knowing that a small win, or success story, has been achieved; when it is achieved. A small win might include an operator setting a personal best in line efficiency, a team setting a downtime reduction record, achieving a target condition, or other. Tracking OEE is a great starting point – but if you’re still using a manual OEE tracking process (ie whiteboards or paper), you can forget about capturing personal bests by employee or team. Also, mostly all software platforms, with the exception of, tracks OEE by line but not the individual, and thus can’t assign a personal best – to the person. As a leader, one of the most demotivating things you can do is fail to recognize and reward the right behaviors at the right time. Sometimes your people know when they’ve set a personal record but they expect you, as a leader, to know as well – without them having to tell you. Its almost like forgetting your kid’s birthday – and if you did that too, you aught to be ashamed.

Why celebrating small wins is so powerful

Think about this from the line operators perspective. In the absence of any other indicator, the only way to define success is by producing more product that ever before, which may actually be harmful if you’re overproducing; or at least completing the schedule on time, which just means you’re not getting worse. Additionally, these events come too few and far in between to motivate you to strive for everyday improvement. You really don’t have an incentive to “do better everyday”, which is at the heart of Continuous Improvement. You just want to clock in, do good enough, get paid, and go home.

How to create “pull” for Lean from the Shop Floor using Small Wins

If you think about it in the context of a CI journey, those small wins are like winning basketball games in route to the championship. In order to build “championship-level” confidence, you have to win a lot of games throughout the season. Setting a personal best in yield losses today, changeover time tomorrow, and then line uptime the next day gives you the motivation to set new personal bests going forward. Couple this with a social element of automatically broadcasting these success stories throughout the company and you’ve got a recipe for rapid growth. Imagine you just finish a successful kaizen event and set a personal best in rate attainment the next day, then received a “like” or comment from the CEO and other leaders recognizing your achievement. That’s an incredibly powerful motivator to engage in more improvement activity on your line. You’d come to work everyday knowing that a new personal best is well within reach; excited about trying out that new idea to see what impact it has on results. You’d stick around while maintenance is repairing the line so you can learn how to make those repairs yourself – so you don’t have to wait around for maintenance next time. You’d be asking your supervisor or CI resource about new Lean Tools and methods you could use to get better results. This approach creates “pull” from the shop floor for CI as opposed to having it pushed upon you by management against your will or interest.

You might be thinking about all the impossible daily number crunching that would be required to get this done. Or if you’re using spreadsheets, this file could become incredibly large and useless and inaccurate in no time. And speaking of time, it would take an incredible amount of time to build, update, and maintain such a tool. But don’t fret. This technology already exists and is ready for you to use to accelerate your CI journey. When the geniuses at Toyota and their observers wrote the books on Lean, the tech unfortunately did not exist. In fact, Toyota had an aversion to the use of technology in their Management System (TPS) because they feared it would automate too much and allow the operator to disengage. They’ve since changed their approach as they saw their competitors leveraging various technologies to great effect. We’re learning everyday that Toyota wasn’t right about everything; but you can get it right.

Check out this video to see what I’m talking about:

So.. never again should an operator go a day without their leaders even being aware that they just had the best day ever. Take the scenic route – engage your people in everyday small wins and watch the powerful impact it has on your Lean culture.


How Command-and-Control Sabotages Continuous Improvement

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Command-and-Control organizations are built around principles of efficiency, speed, and execution. On the surface, these sound like good qualities of a Lean organization as well. After all, Lean is all about eliminating waste, right? It makes sense that once leaders figure out what activities constitute wastefulness, they could simply command all employees to stop doing those behaviors and start doing things that management deems to be more efficient. And that those who fail to comply should be “coached” into compliance. However, subscribing to this way of thinking transfers power to managers and away from their subordinates, who perform the value-added work that the customer is paying for. And with that power transfer goes creativity, innovation, motivation, and all other things that are needed to create a thriving culture of Continuous Improvement. To restate the question: Can Command-and-Control and a Culture of Continuous Improvement Coexist? The short answer to this question is no. The long answer is – its complicated, but no.

Why Command-and-Control Kills Continuous Improvement

In essence, Command-and-Control is the kryptonite of Continuous Improvement. It values doing things right over doing the right things, conformance over creativity, and efficiency over effectiveness. It siphons power from the bottom and feeds it up to the top. It drives behavior through fear and manipulation instead of genuine desire to do good. It is founded on a few assumptions,  one being that the manager knows best what needs to be done and others should be subordinated. It views the organizational relationships as authoritative and not collaborative. The purpose of Lean is to continuously increase value to the customer. Value is created on the value stream; so logically, the people closest to, or working on, the value stream have the best understanding of opportunities for improvement. While a manager may have a more macro (high level) point of view over the end to end business system, the people who live with value stream issues day in and day out are probably going to understand the issues at a deeper level; thus, putting them in position to develop more optimal solutions for their area of ownership. Although leaders are in a better position to drive system-level improvements, in a Command-and-Control culture, many of them are too busy micromanaging their employees to step back and look at the system. Leaders and their teams should work as partners to optimize the business with the intent to bring the greatest possible value to the customer.

Another assumption in a Command-and-Control culture is that the manager’s role is to enforce the rules and employee performance is an assessment of compliance. Those leaders who are trying to instill a Continuous Improvement culture using command-and-control tactics are operating as if creativity and innovation are a privilege of upper leadership and all others should simply obey. In this environment, subordinates display obedience out of fear – with the hopes that one day, they’ll be rewarded with the authority to create an innovate, or actually use the right half of their brains at work; or just keep their jobs for a little while longer.

In contrast, the aim of Continuous Improvement is to accelerate a company towards its objective, which is ultimately to win in the markets they serve. This usually means keeping customers and other stakeholders happy. This cannot be done without considering the competitive landscape in which the company operates. In order to win in the market, your company must have 2 things going for it: 1) be more in-tune with the market and the customer’s perception of value and 2) be able to change to better meet the needs of the customer.

The challenge is that corporate managers, especially as they ascend higher up in to the organization, become more and more detached from the value stream – making Command-and-Control more convenient for the leader but less optimal for everyone else, including the customer. Instead, companies should seek to more directly connect those doing the work on the value stream to the consumer. Then empower them to innovate to better meet the needs of the customer.

Imagine 2 scenarios:

  • One manufacturing company has the marketing research function working directly with shop floor operators
  • The other company has multi-layered, silo’ed, hierarchical organization where the people working the value stream have a very weak signal from the actual customer and vice versa.

Which one do you think has the strongest competitive advantage?

In the latter scenario, shop floor operators are effectively rendered dependent on their managers for guidance, who often also have no clue which direction the market is moving, especially if there isn’t an effectively strategy deployment process in place. To take the former scenario a step further, imagine shop floor leads and operators engaging directly with customers to brainstorm ideas for improvement. This would require an incredible shift in power to the people working the value stream – and for leaders to become support resources, coaches, and facilitators – as opposed to commanders.

Click here to view case studies highlighting the difference Impruver can make for your manufacturing business.

Why the Relationship Between Command-and-Control and Continuous Improvement is Complicated

This is an especially difficult challenge large companies who likely compete on efficiency. They tend to identify products that can be sold to the masses and then build the business machine to produce these things cheaply and in large quantities. They are not designed to be flexible to the needs of the market but to be great at making a thing and controlling the market through pricing, messaging, and other incentives. For a business built on this model, efficiency is king. These are not playgrounds for the creative and innovative, but more like a platoon of highly disciplined troops, whose slightest display of disobedience could mean life and death for the entire troop, and possibly the loss of the war itself. These companies are not good at capitalizing on opportunities, but at protecting the status quo and position that they have enjoyed for so long. Often these companies are being cannibalized by their own size and slowness, making a Continuous Improvement a struggle to grasp and sustain.

In a CI culture, empowerment of the people is paramount. Empowerment requires leaders to relinquish some of their own power to engage their teams to a higher order. This means employees at all levels get to bring both halves of their brains to work everyday and put them to good use for the company. An organization where only leaders are allowed to practice creativity and experimentation is inherently going to make much slower progress than one where all employees are fully engaged to create, initiate, and innovate. In competitive markets, companies that are both in-tune with customer needs and capable of rapid innovation will dominate in terms of growth and talent acquisition. Those that promote leaders based on strict obedience will perpetuate a cycle of stagnation, slow growth, and ultimate demise.

5 Simple Continuous Improvement Hacks that Will Have Your Manufacturing Company Rocking

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There are over 1,000 Lean tools and counting that can be used to improve processes and help a business become more Lean. All of them have a time and place but you can achieve remarkable success by doing just a small handful of things really well. So put away your stack of Lean books and close the 90 web pages showering you with overkill Continuous Improvement advice. This article will provide you a simple formula that will help you develop an unstoppable Lean Culture.

Element #1) Strategy Deployment

You need to be clear on what will help the company win in the market. The few things that will generate the greatest success for your company, is your strategy. Then you need a seamless method for deploying these priorities throughout the organization. Your deployment method must leave no employee behind. This means each and every person working in your company needs to understand their role in delivering the strategy and commit to clearly defined improvement objectives for their area of ownership. Each person should establish a target condition that is an improvement on the current condition. This becomes their Continuous Improvement plan – all of which should clearly connect up to the highest ranking leader’s plan. Remember that making progress against your strategy is the very definition of improvement. Any side steps, aka random changes, are a waste of precious resources.

Element #2) A Mechanism for Improving

You need to develop the skill of everyone in your company to make sustainable improvements. The de-facto method for this is called PDCA or Plan-Do-Check-Act. You’re probably familiar with this term or one of it’s many variants. Essentially it’s just a spin off of using the scientific method to discover the truth about your business processes and make changes that work. The only way to do this is good old fashioned trial and error. You form a hypothesis about what will get you better results, you test it, you observe the outcome, then you repeat this process until you discover the truth. This isn’t breakthrough thinking, but in practice, it usually falls apart in the testing and / or repeat as needed phase. The best way to form a hypothesis is to work with a cross-functional team of people close to the process to do a Root Cause Analysis. This gets you to the right answer with less time and effort invested. Just remember that the output of a RCA is just hypothesis that needs to be proven by making changes to the process. The key here is to be deliberate about driving action based on analysis. You need a good way to ensure actions are being executed so you can know from experience what’s really driving process results.

Element #3) Performance Measurement Tools

Without a good way of quantifying performance, you have no idea if you’re actually improving or sustaining results. You’ve probably heard the expression “go with your gut”, but in this case, don’t! You need the numbers. Which numbers you use will vary based on what you’re trying to improve. When it comes to manufacturing value stream execution, you have to go with OEE, or Overall Equipment Effectiveness. OEE is global gold standard. As you experiment with making changes to processes, you need to watch and see what happens to the performance metrics. When you’re really getting to the truth, you can use it to lever the numbers up or down by making the right changes.

Element #4) Leadership Coaching Mechanism

Leaders need to be able to coach their teams to overcome challenges as they work to close the gap to their target condition. This does not mean commanding certain actions that the leader thinks will get results. Commanding is not coaching! Good coaching is a iterative process that allows a person to learn from experience and repetition while the coach observes and provides guidance as needed. The intent is to develop talent and capability in the learner – specifically the talents of learning how to learn, solving problems, making decisions, and improving the process. As a coach, let the learner go as far as they can with their own ability. When they hit a brick wall, and maybe ask for help, give them as little help as needed to overcome the specific issue they’re struggling with. The beauty, and growth, is in the struggle. This may mean teaching them new Lean tools, connecting them with resources, or providing some impromptu therapy. Be flexible – and teach them in the way that they learn best. But just know that the moment you as a leader become disengaged from the coaching process, the learner is likely to disengage as well from the improvement process. Besides, developing the talent of your people is one of your most important jobs.

Element #5) Engagement Mechanism

A Lean Culture is made up of a million small everyday wins. Leaders need to have visibility to these wins as they happen so they can recognize and encourage further progress and success. A person who is striving to improve their process and getting results should not go quarters, months, or even weeks without their leaders realizing and rewarding them for it. This lag time is demotivating. Leaders need to be on top of their game, just as they expect their teams to be.

All this may seem difficult to do if you’re already too busy and don’t have the tools in place to handle these activities effectively. This is where having the right technology makes a world of a difference. Heck, even Toyota has abandoned the old way of thinking that all Lean Tools should be manual processes. They were “suddenly motivated” to adopt technology once they saw themselves falling behind in the market. Fortunately for you and everyone else, technologies like provide enterprise-wide access to the most cutting edge methods that delivers all of the elements mentioned above plus more. Check the videos to the right of this page and click here to learn more.

9 Cures to Common Continuous Improvement Cultural Challenges

Creating a Lean Culture might require some medicine, a bit of therapy, and some deep meditation. You may feel like Continuous Improvement doesn’t work for your company. Or maybe you feel like your doing all the right stuff and running up against a brick wall trying to turn the corner on culture and performance. Perhaps you’ve tried a few things that you were told would work and they didn’t produce the result you were looking for. Perhaps you just haven’t had the opportunity to see a working CI organization in action. Either way, there are some common themes that are present in every CI journey to varying degrees. These themes are synonymous with illnesses as they plague business results and can spread throughout the organization unless they are stopped before they kill the patient. There are some basic steps you can take to overcome these ailments and truly start to realize some organic acceleration.

Here are 9 Common Lean Culture Illnesses and How to Cure Them:

Illness #1: People recognize opportunities for the company to improve but are fearful of mentioning them to leadership

Everyone has a unique point of view. Therefore everyone sees opportunities that no one else sees. The guy running the packaging machine has a much better idea for why the company gets pallets rejected by the customer due to unsealed boxes than the big boss sitting in a corporate office. I like the saying that “the person closest to the problem, is also the one closest to the solution”. Every company needs a good way of engaging people to improve performance in their area of ownership. To do this, try setting a clearly defined target condition for each employee in the company. Then hold their leaders accountable for coaching their employees to success against their improvement objectives.

Illness #2: The company has to hire externally for leadership positions because talent isn’t being developed internally to step up into higher-level openings

There is a delicate balance between getting results today and developing people for tomorrow. The companies that will lead the pack in the future are the ones that make the greatest investment in developing their people while delighting customers today. Avoid having your business decline to a culture of fire fighting so there’s some energy left over at the end of the day to prepare your people for tomorrow. To do this, create a back-fill (or successor) for every role in the company. Then provide assignments that give the successor experiential learning opportunities. This works even better if the experiential learnings are designed as Continuous Improvement projects that require deep understanding of key processes and provide a benefit to the business.

Illness #3: Leaders expect a short-term ROI for all CI activity with little regard for developing their culture

If serving the customer is at the heart of the business, ROI is the brain. In fact, if you’re not making money, you can’t continue to serve the customer. However, leaders must be careful not to sacrifice the capability to serve tomorrow’s customers by getting overly consumed by the challenges of today. This includes balancing investor payouts with re-investing in growth and development. To do this, couple activities that have great ROI with those that have marginal short-term benefit but are strategic for growth and sustainment. However, keep in mind that most Lean tools are not just one-and-done. When done well, they signify the beginning of the journey and not the end.

Illness #4: The company has a Continuous Improvement program that is disconnected from the strategy

News flash: making progress against your strategy is the definition of improvement. Randomly applying Lean Tools is not necessarily improvement. In fact, you may be wasting precious resources on things that don’t create value for the customer or the business. Don’t fall into the trap of “polishing the doorknobs on the Titanic” in the name of Continuous Improvement. If you find yourself with a so-called “rock solid” CI program, but are consistently losing market share, something is definitely wrong. To fix this, define a clear strategy for how to win in the market. Then challenge every employee to make improvements in their area of ownership that moves the business in the direction of its strategic priorities.

Illness #5: People aren’t getting to the root cause of issues impacting their area

There’s two variants of this issue. One is where people are pushed to hit their numbers everyday by any means; and the other is where operators just band-aid problems and wait for maintenance or management to swoop in and fix them when it’s convenient. It can be a difficult choice to risk not fully satisfying a customer to take the time to get to the root cause of an issue and permanently resolve it. But consider this, issues of today like to mix with the issues of tomorrow, which can result in quite a cocktail of chaos. Better to strike the balance between making the daily numbers and shutting down when needed to fix the process the right way. Your people, the process, you, and the customer will be happier for it in the long run. Start by training your process owners on root cause analysis. Then teach them how to measure their losses and set the expectation that they will make changes to reduce them over time. Then recognize and reward continuous and sustaining improvement in performance.

Click here to gain access to a powerful webinar on Generating the Skill and Will to Improve Performance

Illness #6: People are reluctant to experiment with improvement ideas out of fear of failure

We all love the part of the movie when the hero jumps in to save the day; and want to yell at the TV when the hero fails to make a seamless rescue. But in the movies, the hero is always encouraged to keep trying because otherwise there is no hope. We should do the same in business. We need to be careful not to discourage “right behaviors” like trying to improve performance, even if the result is sub-optimal. Learning and development, which result from trying, are pre-cursers to improvement. To encourage this, instead of focusing on success and failure, switch the focus to learning. Learning happens most effectively through experience, and trail and error. Promote a culture of discovery and sharing over one of “who got the highest numbers”.

Illness #7: People hide performance losses out of fear of “looking bad” or facing consequences

I once had a manager who tried to improve engagement scores by “educating the team” that they were more engaged than they realized. In other words, this manager did not intend to actually engage the people at a higher level, he just wanted to manipulate them into thinking they were already engaged. This manager would have been better off to identify what’s driving the disengagement and fix it. The same is true for any metric that indicates opportunity for improvement such as OEE, First Pass Good, On Time and Full, etc. To cure this, shift the focus away from hitting or failing to hit targets to one of gradual and consistent improvement. When people learn to define success as “getting better”, showing losses becomes less threatening and status quo becomes the dangerous.

Illness #8: Continuous Improvement is delegated to an individual or department and not owned by all

Just about everyone understands how CI can be an incredible asset to a business. But many people lack the skill and will to improve. Some believe that hiring a CI Manager or resource and sticking them in the plant is commitment enough for them. This sets a tone that CI can be done in a silo and the role of leadership is minimal. But you can’t buy a culture of Operational Excellence. You have to build it yourself. A CI resource who is very skilled can help coach but leaders at all levels bear the responsibility to make it happen. To cure this, every leader in the company should be challenged with a performance improvement target that aligns with the company strategy. Then deploy their team’s CI efforts to close the gap. The CI leader should pass their expertise into leaders and process owners via coaching – not by doing it all themselves.

Illness #9: There is a general lack of respect for people at lower levels in the organization

Empowerment is built on 2 fundamental blocks: 1) developing people’s capability so that they can make sound decisions and 2) trusting people to act in good faith and generally do the right thing given the opportunity. Empowering someone requires you to “give up” some of your power to others, resulting in an overall more powerful organization. Engaging people’s hearts and minds to a higher order can unlock unimaginable potential. To cure this, delegate decision-making and problem-solving to the lowest feasible level in the organization. Then coach (but not direct or micro-manage) the performer to further strengthen their capability.

If you find yourself trying to lead a Lean Culture and progress is slow and sometimes backward, don’t despair. What you’re experiencing is perfectly normal and sometimes patience and persistence are needed to shift the organizational culture. Focusing on the areas listed above will have a dramatic effect on moving the needle in the right direction. The key thing to remember is that Lean or Continuous Improvement is not a substitute for good leadership, but it is the ultimate compliment.

5 Root Cause Analysis Methods of Which You’ve Never Heard

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There are a ton of Root Cause Analysis methods out there, and new ones are popping up all the time. This post dives into some of the lesser known methods of RCA such as Kepner-Tregoe, Barrier Analysis, and Events and Causal Factor Analysis. Perhaps this will help stock your arsenal so that you have more powerful tools to crack bigger problems.

Root Cause Analysis Method: Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making

This is a more methodical approach that combines the best of RCA and change management to ensure that not only the problem is clearly identified, but the best solutions are also developed to address them.

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There are four basic steps for using the Kepner Tregoe decision matrix:

  1. Situation appraisal – the process of clarifying the situation, outlining concerns and choosing a direction
  2. Problem analysis – defining the problem and determining it’s root cause
  3. Decision analysis – defining alternative solutions and a conducting a risk analysis for each
  4. Potential problem analysis – further scrutinizing the best alternative solutions against potential problems and negative consequences and proposing actions to mitigate risks

Root Cause Analysis Method: Events and Causal Factor Analysis

This method is used to establish a timeline or “storyline” of events leading up to an incident. It works best for one-off major events that are caused by a series of other significant events.

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The steps include:

  1. Organize the accident data – Collect and categorize all known facts regarding the issue
  2. Guide the investigation – Create and execute the investigation facilitation plan to discover what is not currently known but needed
  3. Validate and confirm the true accident sequence – Confirm that known facts are actually truth
  4. Identify and validate factual findings, probable causes, and contributing factors – Outline potential causes and contributing factors
  5. Simplify the investigation report – Organize the findings the report in a way in a reader-friendly format
  6. Illustrate the accident sequence in the investigation report – Incorporate visual aides into the final report that clearly illustrate the accident sequence

Root Cause Analysis Method: Change Analysis

This process ties events or significant shifts in performance back to changes in the process that may have contributed to the result.

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The steps include:

  1. Describe the event or problem
  2. Describe the situation without the problem
  3. Compare the two situations
  4. Document the differences
  5. Analyze the differences
  6. Identify the consequences of the differences

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Root Cause Analysis Method: Barrier Analysis

This approach assesses the system of controls or “barriers” that are in place to prevent issues from occurring to determine which might have failed or malfunctioned.

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The steps include:

  1. Write the behavior statement – Clearly define what behavior needs to be studied
  2. Write the behavior screening questions – Develop a set of questions that helps determine if the subject (person) is a doer or non-doer
  3. Write the research questions – Identify what information needs to be discovered and formulate questions
  4. Organize the field work – Create a plan to gather the needed data
  5. Conduct the survey – For any information that cannot be gathered from direct observation, interview subject matter experts
  6. Coding, tabulating, and analyzing the data – Transform the data and information into a coherent story
  7. Using the research to make decisions – Decide on the best course of action

Root Cause Analysis Method: Problem Tree Analysis

This method creates a tree diagram of potential causes of an observable problem or result. It includes branches of potential causes instead of a simple linear approach used in the 5 Why’s

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Here are the steps involved:

  1. Define the system or area of interest – Scope the system to be fully inclusive but isolates the problem enough for sufficient controls to be set.
  2. Identify the initiating events of interest – Scope the specific problem to be addressed
  3. Identify lines of assurance and physical phenomena – Identify the barriers (both physical and human) put in place to control process outcomes.
  4. Define contributing factors – Identify potential causes or contributing factors for each known cause.
  5. Analyze potential root causes for most probable factors – Determine the appropriate frequency and severity of each possible root cause and select which to apply further investigation
  6. Summarize results – Create a report that lists all accidents stemming from potential root causes

Root cause analysis is a great tool for developing a better understanding of why problems might be occurring in any process-oriented operation. RCA is a cornerstone of Continuous Improvement as it enables more effective solutions to be developed. As with any root cause, there may be several problems resulting from the same root. Therefore, fixing one root cause can produce a multitude of benefits for your operation.

As with any RCA, the root causes are just hypothesis that need to be proven (or dis-proven) through testing and experimentation. This means that a clear plan of action should flow from the RCA activity. The RCA does not improve a process. Making changes and observing what happens is where the real improvement occurs. And if you’re not seeing the result you’re looking for, you need to further your RCA, form new hypothesis, and continue to experiment until you get the right result. RCA coupled with deliberate action accelerates the learning process and produces powerful results in the meantime.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 3)

Lean tools can be leveraged to accelerate your company’s culture and business results in a dramatic way. However, if ineffectively applied, they can decrease hope for sustaining improvement and feed a culture of cynicism. In this 3rd of 3 installments on the Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools, we’ll dive into Gemba, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Leader Standard Work, and Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment). This article is designed to give leaders a better understanding of their role in a Lean Organization.

#7) Gemba – It’s great to see leaders spending time on the shop floor engaging with the workforce. Leadership should certainly have a regular presence on the value stream where the work happens that the customer is paying for. But even this well-meaning activity can have destructive side effects if the intent is not clearly understood.

The Misunderstanding: Quick question: how much time, energy, and effort do people put into “cleaning up” when the big boss is coming into town? The answer to this question gives you some insight to the organization’s gemba culture. If people are “acting differently” in preparation for and during a leadership visit, then perhaps there’s a misunderstanding of what gemba looks to achieve. To make matters worse, leaders often seek to point out deficiencies in the process, which turn into projects that may or may not be connected to the strategy; but they consume precious resources – just because the boss noticed and called it out during their last visit. Ideally, the plant team should be eager to show their leaders the total truth so that they can engage leaders in a meaningful partnership to achieve superior results. The plant should never get ready, but should stay ready at all times so as to eliminate distractions and elevate the improvement culture.

Why do Gemba? The true intended benefit of Gemba is for people, especially decision makers, who are not naturally exposed to value stream processes, to gain familiarity with the real opportunities, gain deeper understanding of issues, and develop the talent to drive the right pace against their strategic imperatives. Leaders should not be asking “why something is wrong” or “did you notice that problem?”, they should be asking “what is the target condition?” for each person and “what is your plan for closing the gap?”; and even better, “how can I help?”. This drives greater ownership of results to the people doing the work and helps leaders understand how they could make an immediate impact.

#8) Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) -TPM is a canned approach to Lean that includes several tools designed to help achieve, sustain, and improve base condition. Base Condition is a process that is completely free from defects. TPM includes 8 pillars with one of the key pillars being Autonomous Maintenance (AM). In AM, operators become more autonomous from the maintenance function, performing the lesser complex routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning, inspection, lubrication, tightening, and minor repairs. Several other pillars are designed to help achieve and sustain base conditions with the Focused Improvement pillar helping to improve processes beyond base condition.

The Misunderstanding: Many companies approach TPM as a set of standards that they expect the organization to comply to. This is often taken as  more of a command and control approach that fails to develop the true capability to solve the problems that are keeping the company from making strategic progress. Without respect the individual journey of each employee, it becomes near impossible to sustain progress in this environment. As employees become frustrated and leave, the learning curve for a new employee is extremely high and TPM progress gradually trends the wrong way over time.

Why do TPM? No one disagrees that having machines that run at optimal running condition at all times is a really good thing. The question is at what cost? and is it justified by the benefit? This is a question that leaders must ponder to determine how far into the TPM journey they should go, if at all. TPM can drive higher OEE, lower lead time, higher quality, and higher productivity. If your processes are asset-heavy and these things are central to your operating strategy, then perhaps TPM is right for you. However, if your processes are labor-intensive and flexibility / agility is more important, perhaps you would choose an alternative or modified approach.

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#9) Leader Stanhttp://savingsdard Work (LSW) – LSW is a structured review process for leaders up and down the operations chain of command to support in driving process sustainment. Each level sets a frequency of how often they will perform reviews and in which areas. They might assess gaps from the correct use of key lean tools and follow-up on opportunities for improvement.

The Misunderstanding: The effective use of LSW depends greatly on the existing organizational culture. In a command and control culture, leaders will use this as an opportunity to find fault in what operators (or process owners) are doing and seek to take punitive corrective action. This approach only de-values the process owner and discourages a true continuous improvement mindset and culture.

Why do LSW? Use this tool to empower process owners to continuously improve performance in their area. Instead of looking for gaps to a standard, especially for seasoned operators, good leaders will seek to better understand the process for themselves and what they could do to help the process owner to make progress against their target condition. This could mean coaching or training but could also mean helping them influence other functions to take needed action.

#10 Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment) – This is the process of developing strategies, plans, and tactics at all levels in the organization. Ideally, every employee in the company from the CEO down should be able to quickly draw a connection between their improvement work to the company’s broader strategy.

The Misunderstanding: 90% of strategies never get deployed. Most leaders don’t make the connection between the company strategy and continuous improvement. In fact, they don’t see the execution of strategy as improvement at all, they just see it as addition work that needs to get done. In worse cases, leaders see strategy deployment as a “paper exercise” that they do just to say they did it and throw it into a dark drawer until the next year’s strategy gets rolled out.

Why Do Strategy Deployment? A company’s strategy should paint a clear picture for what needs to be done to win (or keep winning) in the market. It should engage all aspects of the business and all employees. The agreed-upon work is your Continuous Improvement plan. It doesn’t help to have a CI team or program that is working on different things than your company strategy. If so, there will be an internal struggle for limited resources to be applied against the competing agendas. In fact, all departments should remain disciplined to the strategy to drive the greatest momentum and effectiveness.

Lean tools are very powerful because of their ease of use and repeatable results. Leaders should developing an understanding of when and how to most effectively apply the tools to drive superior business results. This post concludes a 3-part series on the most misunderstood lean tools. As you have probably realized by now, implementing the tool is actually the beginning of the journey and not the end. Once implemented, it takes persistence and dedication to stick with it until the desired result is achieved.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 2)

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 2) -

Just like any technology, lean tools can create great efficiencies but need to be applied the right way in order to produce positive results. Unfortunately, many view the implementation of some Lean Tools as the end of the Continuous Improvement journey and not the beginning. Let’s explore a few examples of tools that are frequently misunderstood and explain how they could be applied more effectively. In Part 2 of 3 installments of the Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean tools, we’ll take a look at Standard Work, Centerlines, and Root Cause Analysis.

#4) Standard Work. This is the process of documenting process steps and sometimes timing and watchouts at each step. The best approaches even include pictures of what success looks like at each step. This all sounds good and great, but many don’t realize the true intent of how Standard Work should be used.

The misunderstanding:  Many people develop a standard work document after completing a kaizen event or some other improvement activity. Some skip the improvement activity and jump straight to the standard work document…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These documents can serve as a great tool for helping new employees accelerate their learning curve in a new role. They can also help sustain the performance level of a process over time. However, when these documents are created and left unchanged year over year, then they become obsolete and fail to do what they are truly designed to do.

Why do Standard Work? In addition to serving as a document to guide process owners through the steps of a process, the standard work document should be used as a tool that helps indicate when the equipment is no longer in optimal operating condition (or base condition). When the machine is running in base condition, there should be no need for deviation from Standard Work. But when there are defects and other issues, you’ll see operators needing to take steps that are “out of standard” to hit expected targets. This should point to the need to fix the emerging issues that might be plaguing the line. Standard work should also be a living document. It should not be used as a “hard rule” guide, except perhaps to administer people or product safety protocols. Operators or Process Owners need to be given some liberty to improve on the current operating process as to drive their area of ownership toward the company strategy.

#5 Centerlines: These are a form of Visual Management, that can help to quickly set up a line for optimal operating conditions. But you may not realize the critical role that centerlines play in driving the Continuous Improvement process.

The misunderstanding: Centerlines are markers for distance, pressure, speed, and measures used to indicate the ideal operating parameters of a production process. This might include red / yellow / green range markers on gauges, slides, elevators, angles, etc. During a changeover or set-up, the operator could ideally open a guide of centerline settings and quickly set the line up and start running, dramatically decreasing the trial and error needed to dial in the optimal settings. However, the true value from having centerlines is often unknown or misunderstood.

Why do Centerlines? This tool should be applied after and only after the production line has been brought into base condition, or free of performance defects. It certainly helps to have this tool to help ensure rapid set-ups, but the even more significant benefit is to indicate that there are defects developing in the equipment that need to be addressed. Defects cause the line to be set up “out of Centerline” in order to run; however, the state of operation is sub-optimal and performance suffers. Therefore, Centerlines are a tool for sustaining base condition just as much as allowing for quick set-ups. When a line is out-of-Centerline, operators should initiate  root cause analysis to find out why and take steps to prevent process deterioration in the future.

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#6 Root Cause Analysis – This process is a foundation of Continuous Improvement because failure to identify and address the root cause of issues means improvement was not really achieved. RCA is the process of identifying the underlying “root” reason(s) that an observable issues is occurring.

The Misunderstanding: RCA is probably the most commonly practiced tool in the Lean Toolbox. Methods such as the 5 Why’s and Fishbone are extremely versatile and fairly easy to learn. In fact, any 5 year-old understands the value in asking “why” until you have an absolute understanding of something they’re seeing. But just like any parent of a 5-year old, sometimes you just have to answer as best as you can, knowing that more research is needed to get to the truth in some cases.

Why do Root Cause Analysis? RCA is more of a thought exercise than actual Continuous Improvement. The output from RCA is a single or multiple hypothesis of what might be driving the issue. The truth isn’t discovered until those hypothesis are tested and validated to be true or false. This means you have to complete the follow-up actions that are deemed necessary to validate the hypothesis. Only after the work is completed and performance is observed over time, can you say you have truly identified the root cause. If the changes do not affect the result in the desired way, you must go back to the drawing board and repeat the process until it produces the desired result. The key is to not move on until you are getting the result you want. Otherwise, you are not actually getting to the root cause.

We hear numerous case studies of how Lean Tools are being applied to incredible effect. What we don’t realize is that the implementation of most Lean Tools is just the beginning of the Continuous Improvement journey and not the end. Most tools are designed to enable the conditions for improvement. However, the actual improvement happens through painstakingly developing peoples capabilities, attitudes, and actions with the intent to create a more perfect production system and culture. Then doing the work to make the needed changes to the process. Persistence and leadership play a critical role in a sustainable Lean transformation.