Continuous Improvement, Lean Tools

Quality at the Source

I have seen it multiple times, there are problems in the production floor; a situation that happen very often and everybody is looking for a solution.  Very recently during a routine cycle count somebody read the label very carefully and realize the label did not match the product.  After verification of the product we found that the last three times we packed that product the wrong description was used on the label.  How it is possible that during four different production days the product had wrong information on the label and nobody picked up the problem.

Maybe we need to add an inspection point to verify the label, wait; we have quality inspectors coming once every hour to inspect some information of the label, not all of it.  Do we need more inspection? The question is, can the same person who changes the coder information, inspect the label right after choosing the new code?

Quality at the Source is a concept or tool where product quality is measured or inspected every step of the process.  If the operator of every step treats the next step operator as his/her customer, then they aim to deliver the customer the product they need, with the quality and quantity desired on time.  The use of specialized tools or technology help the operator to accomplish the quality expectations.  We can combine quality at the source with the use of Poka-yoke or “mistake-proofing” devices.

With employees participation the process of selecting the best process to ensure quality will be a good first step towards a problem solving and continuous improvement mentality.  After selection of the right process, training to all affected employees on who, when, where, what and how to perform the inspection is the second step.  Then we go to the plan execution and the subsequent analysis to determine if additional changes are necessary.  If no changes are necessary then the new process becomes the standard and quality at the source has been implemented.

 

 

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Lean Tools, Problem Solving

How I do Root Cause Analysis?

The other day browsing through my twitter account I read a tweet from Mark Graban about a problem solving tip for 5 Whys: “it’s not always magically five whys to get to a possible root cause”.  That tweet and some of the subsequent conversation reminds me of an experience I had recently.  image2

One activity that we have been doing a lot lately is root cause analysis. Our quality program requires the completion of a root cause analysis to support all corrective and preventive actions proposed.  After our most recent third-party audit we decided to complete an analysis for all the observations reported, including some issues we identified as a group but not pointed out by the auditor. When the Quality team recruited me to facilitate the sessions, I was happy to help.

My only doubt was which tool to use, the Five Whys or Fish Bone.   I decided to do both, which immediately raised up questions from my fellow managers, why both? Are we are doing the same analysis twice? Which one is more effective? Honestly I did not know the answer to any of those questions but I proposed the group to start doing both for a couple of non compliances and then after we all have a feel of it, decide which way to go.

Practice makes perfection, after a couple of exercises I was able to tell that if was better to do the Fish Bone to identify all possible causes, and then the 5 whys to find each possible cause’s root. That worked for me in the past, and with this experience I validated it. The whole team agrees and this analysis method becomes our new standard for root cause analysis.

The team members were representative of all departments so the discussions were sometimes intense but always productive. Through brainstorming and a bit of group discussion we were able to choose the most probable cause(s) from the fish bone based on criticality and impact on quality, cost and delivery. For that cause or causes we completed the five whys and just like Mark’s tweet; sometimes with two or three whys we find the root cause but in some of them we went as far as six or seven whys before we hit the root.

image1After we identified the origin for each cause or causes we create and implement the corrective actions. We also set a date in the future to meet just to check that all corrective actions were completed and verify if there is any other incident after their completion. The most important part about doing a root cause analysis is to check if we really identify the root cause of the problem. If it happens again probably we did not, which means that we have to sit down and put more efforts this time to find the real root cause.
Is good to learn doing things on our own but is even better when we can validate with other people experiences that what we are doing is good.  Thank you for the lesson Mark!

Five S, Lean Tools, Visual Management

Making Problems Visible

Recently we have an external audit at our plant and while the results were good, they were not as good as expected.  The audit results did not match the excellent team work effort and great preparation work done during the whole year.  The auditor managed to see a good amount of non-conformance, most of them were very simple things.

During the staff meetings right after the audit we reviewed all the observations, some of us were pretty upset by the results.  At the end of the meeting our general manager pointed out the team work done and how hard we worked during all last year and the current to make the plant visible which helped the auditor to determined what was out of standard.  Of all people, I failed to noticed that our plant is so visible that basically we made the auditor job easier!

Lesson learned, this story is now part of our Five S and Visual Management trainings.  These programs work, the audit was proof of that.  Visual standards make easier to understand when situations are out of standard.  The next step after detection is to fix the situation, that is where we need to work more.  Daily follow-up is important, training for new employees and why not? Maybe we need to revise the standards and go back to the drawing table, after all the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle never ends!

Kaizen, Lean Tools

Respect the Standards

The benefits of standardized work include reductions in variability, injuries and strain.  Standards are perfect for new operators training and provides a baseline for improvement activities.  Standardize work is a powerful lean tool; it is the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement.   There are different standardization techniques: poka-yoke, visual management, SWIS, checking and auditing.  I like visual standards because they are easy to follow but the downside is that once you post a standard we need to follow it.

When we post standards, is to use them as reference, to know what is in compliance and what is not.  Visual standards are ment to highlight out of compliance situations. If the standard is no longer good, then change it first. Never ask an employee to do something different from the current standard.   As soon as you break the rule, you give the wrong signal and show no respect for the people who work to create the standard.  As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements, and so on. Improve the standard, change the visual and start the continuous process again, this part is a never-ending process.

 

Lean Tools, The Beginning

Be careful!

Not everything that shines is gold, and not everybody that claims being a Lean consultant is.  One day, a group from our corporate office came to visit accompanied with a Lean Manufacturing consultant that they hire.  Their experienced consultant came to see our operations and my boss asked me to create a short presentation of our lean journey.

I think that the best presentation ever is the one our employees will do while walking the gemba, but my boss still thinks is good to have power point presentations before going to see.  The day and time indicated I present the highlights of our journey.  I showed how we design our construction blocks to build our Lean Operations.  I showed the VSM we created with our door to door operations, I highlighted the kaizen bursts we identified.  Later I talked about our trainings, Lean Introduction, 5S, POUS, Visual Management, TPM, Kanban and others.  Then I showed examples of how we applied these tools at different areas from receiving to packaging, including the maintenance shops, laboratory, materials warehouse and the chemicals room.  Finally I presented a four panels slide with the PDCA of all the kaizen we “finished” or have in progress.

Our corporate visitors were impressed by all the progress showed, especially in terms of dollars and cents but the lean expert was utterly quiet.  He did not say too much at the end of the meeting either.  At the end of the day, my boss told me that after I left the consultant was saying that he doesn’t believe in VSM and much less on TPM, SMED, 5S trainings or any kind of visual management.  The only thing he recommended to continue working with was kanbans through the whole plant, this will create flow; he said.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Lean, but my humble experience has been enough to know that working with the basic tools of lean helps to prepare the plant for the stabilization, standardization and quick change-over we need to create the flow needed for supply to our customers what they need when they need at the expected quality or better.

Be careful, there are a lot of people out there trying to grab a bunch of money from you saying that they are lean experts.  They come, see, talk, talk and talk about what you should do without saying how to do it and left with their pockets full of money leaving you worst than before.