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

rocking factory - calvinlwilliams.com

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 Impruver.com 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

Root Cause Analysis Method - calvinlwilliams.com

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.

Kepler-Tregoe - calvinlwilliams.com

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.

Events-Failure-Cause-Analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

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.

change analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

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

Click this link to view testimonials and case studies of how Impruver’s Lean Manufacturing software can help empower your company

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.

Barrier Analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

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

Problem-tree-analysis - calvinlwilliams.com

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.

Click here to calculate your savings opportunity by using Impruver’s transformative Lean Manufacturing Software

#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) - calvinlwilliams.com

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.

Click here to calculate your savings opportunity by using Impruver’s transformative Lean Manufacturing Software

#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.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 1)

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 1) - calvinlwilliams.com

Lean tools can be incredible assets to a business. They’re usually fairly simple to understand and can produce some outstanding results. Unfortunately, many Lean tools get used without consideration for what truly brings value to the customer or the broader business strategy. As a result, tools are applied toward short-sighted gains and the true commitment level to sustainment is low. This article lists the first 3 of the top 10 most misunderstood but commonly applied Lean and Continuous Improvement tools.

1) First on the list is 5S (or 6S if you include safety). The 5 S’s stand for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. This acronym was originally developed in Japanese, which also used 5 S’s, which you can learn more about here – 5S on Wikipedia.

The misunderstanding: Most people understand 5S to be a good way to organize the workplace so it looks and feels good. 5S is a great way to remove clutter and define a home for each and every item. If you’re really doing it right, 5S also serves to thoroughly clean equipment inside and out and identify defects that need repair. Some even go into 5S expecting an immediate boost in productivity, morale, and some other key metrics. While 5S does enable these and other great results, it’s not the fundamental intent of the methodology as designed.

Why do 5S? The true purpose of 5S is to expose opportunities for improvement – both from a people and process development standpoint. Many leaders expect an immediate ROI after a 5S implementation, but what this method really does is lays the workplace conditions needed to begin the journey of Continuous Improvement – and not the journey itself. For example, during 5S, you must establish a home for each and every item. When an item is found to be out of place, it exposes an opportunity for coaching and possibly process improvement. Leaders and process owners should be asking why the misplaced item so easily wanders from its home? Perhaps its home is not set up in the ideal place. Perhaps there aren’t enough of this particular item in supply for each area and people from other areas keep taking them away. There could be a million reasons, but in observing the process and asking why things are out of compliance, helps drive overall process improvement and people capability development.

2) Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – This is a metric used to calculate equipment utilization and categorize losses. The metric measures a factory against perfection – meaning 0 losses, which is theoretically impossible, so you should never ever ever see 100% OEE.

The misunderstanding: Many use OEE to show how good their processes are. Some set a target for OEE, even as high as 85%, which is widely regarded as world-class, then expect their teams to show 85% as quickly as possible. Some even go as far as to reprimand or punish their teams for not showing a high enough OEE. Many seek ways to trim out some losses so they can show a higher number such as giving start-up and changeover allowances because these losses are considered “unavoidable”. Another example would be to not consider losses due to supplier or raw material issues because these losses are “out of our control”.

Why use OEE? The real value in OEE is in showcasing your losses and using the information as an input to where you can drive the greatest improvements. The reason OEE compares your process to perfection, or Zero Losses, is because true process perfection is the ultimate objective, although realistically unachievable, and thus is why we call it Continuous Improvement – because it never ends. Implementing OEE is not the end of the journey, its done in the beginning. The journey is in the improvement work done to capture OEE gains, which happens over a long time period – years even. In the process, leaders should be developing the capability within their people to understand OEE losses and lead process improvements. Only when the people capability is developed can sustainable gains be achieved.

Click here to calculate your savings opportunity by using Impruver’s Transformative Lean Manufacturing Software

3) Kaizen. In most Lean  circles, Kaizen is synonymous with Continuous Improvement. It actually stems from the words Kai, for change, and Zen, meaning “good” in Japanese. The literal translation to English is Change for the Good. Change itself is inevitable. The objective of Kaizen is to ensure that things are changing for the better. Organizations should be constantly improving to get or stay in tune with the market.

The misunderstanding: Kaizen is often used to generate some quick business results. Perhaps this means a cost savings or bump in productivity. The expectation is that once the Kaizen event is done, you should be able to continue normal operations and achieve better numbers. It’s also an expectation that the area that was improved was done in isolation of all of the many interconnected parts of the organization such as other production areas, support functions, the customer, sales, logistics, etc. Even the people are expected to be trained on the new process and run out and start generating much better results.

Why do Kaizen? The world within and around your business is constantly changing. In order to stay viable or grow, your business has to change as well. Kaizen describes an approach for making these changes. Kaizen not only helps to continuously engineer a more perfect process, it also helps to build the capability within your people to improve. In other words, it transforms every process owner into somewhat of an engineer, capable of self development, decision-making, and process improvement. The key to making Kazien work is for leaders to focus on building people capability, who in turn, perfect the process. Another critical ingredient is to make sure improvements are aligned to the company strategy. This helps ensure that improvement effort isn’t randomly applied, consuming precious company resources, but instead are working to take the business in the right direction.

By now, you can probably see the pattern in how Lean tools are misunderstood. Many times, the expectation is quick results with a relatively low level of leadership commitment. However, for these tools to drive long term sustainable growth, you need high leadership engagement and a clear strategy. At the heart of your business are your people. Your business results are largely a result of their capability, which is largely the result of your investment in them as their leader.

The Genius Inside PDCA and Why You Can’t Improve Without It

The Genius Inside PDCA - calvinlwilliams.com

If you’re like me, you’ve been seeing, saying, and maybe practicing the method behind the acronym PDCA throughout your entire Continuous Improvement career. Ever done a root cause analysis? A kaizen event? A DMAIC project? Or pretty much any Lean tool for that matter? Yup, you’re in this too! You were probably sucked into a PDCA without even knowing that’s the kind of party you were going to. Either way, there’s a good chance you’re doing it all over the place; and there’s also a damn good chance you could do it bigger, smaller, and just better in general.

What is PDCA?

“Plan-Do-Check-Act”, “Plan-Do-Check-Adjust” or “Please Don’t Call Again”, I think you can go either way on this one. If you bust this method down to its core elements, it’s really just the good ol’ fashion scientific method (it’s still okay to use the word scientific, right? Just checking). Let’s do a quick and dirty side-by-side:

Plan – Form a Hypothesis
Do – Run an Experiment
Check – Validate if the hypothesis is true or false
Act / Adjust – Decide whether or a new experiment is needed and repeat

Yes, I know this is oversimplified and there’s a lot more to running valid experiments and all that – but you see what I’m getting at. Now we have a pretty good idea how this works on a project level. Let’s say we want to fix an issue with a failing motor that’s causing excessive downtime. We may go out and observe (plan), troubleshoot, try something (do) – oops that didn’t work (check) – then try something else (act). Then keep trying until we figure it out and just continue to monitor until we’re comfortable that the dang thing is fixed. This is PDCA in it’s simplest form.

Let’s scale up one level to the kaizen event. Now we have a system of conveyors and machines that is dropping $250k / year worth of product on the floor from various places. We might capture the waste at different points to measure, then quantify losses per leak. Then we might prioritize which leaks to go after and in what order (plan). Then start the root cause analysis process or “where-where-why-why” analysis and then start troubleshooting (do). From there we continue to collect data to validate that losses have in fact been reduced (check). Finally, after learning that losses have actually gone up, we fire the Continuous Improvement leader, reassign someone who knows what they’re doing, and try again (act). Okay, let’s keep the CI guy and give them one more chance but they’re only allowed to 5S the front office.

Now let’s zoom out. Past all the engineers and accountants. Past the 17 levels of middle management. Past the 900 Vice Presidents and baam!…you’re the CEO. Your stock values are down. Wall Street is sending you death threats if you don’t do something quick. You hire a top tier Management Consulting firm to come up with a brilliant strategy (plan). You deploy this strategy throughout the company sparing no beating heart in the company (do). After about 6 months, you patiently watch the stock value barely budge (check). Then you decide the strategy and the consulting firm were bogus, you scrap them both and go with your gut to transform the company (act). Yes…this is also PDCA.

Where PDCA Fails?

Well since there are four letters involved, you guessed it, there are four places where PDCA can fail. Let’s just go in order, shall we?

Plan – You’ve heard the expression – failure to plan is planning to fail. Planning indicates the intent to prosper from an activity or at least avoid unnecessary losses. A good plan should define parameters around who, what, when, where, why, and how. It should also clearly state the hypothesis and how it will be validated. If controls can be put in place to make sure other “issues” don’t skew the result, that’s even better. It’s also good to establish from the onset what “success” looks like and the reaction protocol when (not if) it doesn’t come out as planned the first time around.

Do – This one goes without say. A wonderful plan that never gets executed is nothing more than a wish. You may think this is obvious but consider that 90% of strategies never get deployed. In fact, a whole world of executives will cite poor execution as the biggest reason for failure in business overall.

Check – Believe it or not, many-a-kaizen event are done and wrapped up with no performance tracking mechanism in place to validate if the dang thing even worked. I mean, people will go all out on the celebration after a kaizen event – popping champagne bottles, handing out t-shirts, big smiles for pictures in the newsletter and all that. But if you go back 3 months later and ask if the results have sustained, and you get a bunch of blank stares. Of course this has never happened to you, but take my word for it that it happens.

Act – This is a good barometer for the true Continuous Improvement mindset and culture at your company. You have to have a growth mindset to be any good at this one. You have to be willing and able to accept that perhaps your hypothesis was wrong and that the first go round was a learning exercise. Then be willing to give it another go based on your new knowledge to maybe get it right the next time. And then be willing to do this over and over and over until you get the result you want. If you have a succeed vs failure mindset (as opposed to a growth mindset), you might just write the whole thing off as a failure way too soon and accept the current state as a fact of life. This failure mindset is fatal in Continuous Improvement and should be discouraged at all costs. Do it for the culture. Do it for … the people!

Click here to calculate your savings opportunity by using Impruver’s Lean Manufacturing Software

How to get Better PDCA’s?

Better PDCA’s, by definition, comes with improved quality and increased quantity. You have to be deliberate about making sure each step is executed the right way, every time it’s supposed to be. I watch my 7 year-old son execute PDCA over 100 times to beat a level in Mario Bros. Yes it took him 100 tries but he got it…and for him, it was totally worth it.

Here’s the gameplan:
1) Start with the company’s strategy so everyone is clear on what’s most important to improve
2) Then challenge every employee to improve something important in their area of ownership
3) Use Lean tools such as Root Cause Analysis, Kaizen, 5S, and others to identify needed changes and make them
4) Monitor the results and adjust / respond as needed. It’s best to have strong analytics system in place so tracking data doesn’t seem like added work

The key to success is not quitting until you get it right. In fact, the definition of success is not quitting (paraphrased for your convenience). This works at all levels in the organization so no one is immune. Implement a management system like impruver.com to facilitate this practice and develop this capability throughout the entire company and see a dramatic and permanent shift in culture, capability, and business results.