Continuous Improvement

I know you are busy, are you productive?

While reviewing the month expenses, I noticed that the maintenance and repair account was already over budget. My instinct is to check the details of the account and see where exactly we spend all that money. I click on the right option, but I did not get the information I needed, why? Because we spend millions of dollars on an enterprise resource planning software and then spend a couple of thousands to buy a computerized maintenance management system to manage all maintenance expenses.

This is not the only case of redundancy on computerized systems or applications that we have.  We had at least another four different applications that we used instead of that very powerful, very expensive enterprise resource planning software.  The result is digital clutter, and confusion and of course a lot of frustration.

Every time you need information or need to do something, the first question is, where? what application I need to use?  You will think that the answer to this question is intuitive, that you don’t need to think about it but whoever work ten plus hours a day, know that at some point you are so tired you don’t even remember what you meant to do, much less how to do it.  To be able to reach out those applications faster, we save shortcuts on our desktop.  Now we have so many of those icons on the desktop that your brain become as slow as your computer trying to find out the one you need out of all that clutter.  With multiple programs, it comes multiple user names and passwords which of course you never remember which one is the right one for each application.

We are busy the entire day, are we productive? We need to find ways to remove all that clutter and focus on the important things.  Maybe there is not much that we can do to convince our corporate office to maximize the use of a couple of applications and get rid of others but definitely there are a lot of things that we can do to deal with our self-inflicted clutter.  In the next posts I will discuss what we can do to deal with digital clutter and other kinds of clutter in our office.

 

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Continuous Improvement

Do you care?

When top leaders don’t care, why employees will?  My first couple of weeks on a new job are always dedicated to learn about the culture, processes and identify the opportunities and challenges of the place.  Every business unit has its own KPI’s and regardless how good or not, the department is performing against those KPI’s always is critical to have the people support to be able to improve.  People will not be engaged with any improvement process or support any changes if they are not treated with respect and see honest desire to change the status quo, not just “make the numbers”.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to be a problem solving expert to get better results.  What you need is to be consistent with your message, you need to talk the talk but more importantly walk the talk.  If you are enforcing housekeeping rules or clean as you go mentality but you walk over trash and don’t even say something to somebody to clean it up, you are delivering a contradictory message.  A better message will be if you pick it up yourself or help the people who will come to do it.

When you stop to say hi to your operators, try to know them and talk not just about what they are doing but about how they are doing it and how the feel, you show them that you care about the human being.  If you approach them for positive enforcement and not just to say that they can do something different they will listen every time.

If you are consistent with your message and how you act, your team will learn to do the same, you will lead them by example.  If you show that you care, they will care.  The contrary is also true, if you don’t care about what is going on, they will not care either.  You want to change attitudes and behaviors? start with your own, show your commitment and priorities and your team will follow you.

Continuous Improvement, Gemba Management, Problem Solving

How is continuous improvement practiced in real life?

I was watching a Ted Talk video with chef José Andrés where he described how a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after hurricane María.  I admire him for his work in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, but now after his work in Puerto Rico with the World Central Kitchen I am thankful and consider him a hero.  The entire talk is fascinating but there are parts that resonate in me for the simplicity on which he and his support team did problem solving and continuous improvement in a crisis and beat the huge federal structure on bringing food for the people in need.

Some of his words remind me things that we do while practicing continuous improvement:  “Let’s not plan, let’s not meet, let’s start cooking.”  and  “All of a sudden, big problems become very simple, low-hanging fruit solutions, only by doing, not planning and meeting in a very big building”.

One common situation for managers is to take decisions, is what we do every day.  Some managers still take decisions based on month end reports discussion during a staff meeting.  Those reports are like a post-mortem analysis, they only say what happened on the past.  Any action taken may or may not work to change the subject targeted on those reports.

The best way to know a situation first hand is going to where the action is, lean practitioners call that place gemba.  Gemba is whenever the process we want to improve happens, the production floor, office, laboratory, any place where we need to practice continuous improvement.

I am very visual, for me the best way to understand something is by taking a look at it.  I use charts and other visual methods to communicate status but when I am facing a problem, the only way for me is to go where the problem is and observe.  For me going to the gemba and see what is happening is a natural thing.  Even if does not feel that natural for you, it is possible to do it and it works on every environment.

What José Andrés did in Puerto Rico was just that, he went to the gemba observed the situation and took decisions on the spot.  Their ideas execution was also a check for their effectiveness and the trigger for changes to adapt to the changing situation or priorities.  That is how we practice continuous improvement at its best!

Continuous Improvement

Keep looking, don’t settle!

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  Don’t settle.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.  So keep looking until you find it.  Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

Continuous Improvement

Are we really doing root cause analysis?

During the staff meeting, one of our managers was talking about how a conveyor broke during start-up, causing downtime and thousands of pounds of product on hold due to possible foreign matter.  While he explained the results of their root cause analysis, on my mind I was keeping a tally of how many times I heard about it the last couple of months.

We have a continuous improvement program, posters everywhere with the “steps” for problem solving, forms to fill out during each one of those steps and finally on every single corrective action report there is a mention to the root cause analysis.  And yet, root cause analysis and problem solving are obviously not effective.

If you really want to get to the root of your problems, do not pick a solution and call it problem solving.  Guess the reason for a problem is not root cause analysis either, not even when you have a meeting to talk about the problem and all agree on what the reason could be.  Follow the process that better fit to your team, PDCA, DMAIC or other but follow it right.  Our employees are watching, our supervisors are frustrated for dealing with the same issue over and over, they are eager to learn how to make it stop.  We are responsible to show them the right path, take the lead and go to the gemba with them, see what is going on and do a real root cause analysis and problem solving session.