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.
#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.