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.



Problem Solving

Miscommunication or just lack of follow up?

Many times when there is a misunderstanding, communication is to blame.  It happens very often that people don’t listen to understand but to reply.  Technology adds more things to the mix to create communication problems.

Last week during a meeting, a fellow manager explained how a supervisor following his instructions end up leading his team to overproduced an item that we produce very rarely.  Then he added that maybe his instructions were not clear enough, perhaps he misunderstood the conversation during the meeting we discussed the situation.

The meeting my peer was talking about is held on a weekly basis with the participation of 10-12 people.  Each of them represents a very specific portion of our operations.  Some, turn their attention to their mobile devices as soon as they talk.  While doing this, they can missed important pieces of information that can be related with the subject they brought to the table.  They use the phone either to send instructions to their direct reports, either by email or text or just to read emails.

Personally, I hate emails and text messages.  Not all of them, but those that interrupt the effective communication of critical instructions.  Sometimes an email is not enough to communicate critical instructions, much less a text message.  I have seen many times that people use emails or texts as their only way to “communicate” instructions.  The follow-up conversation is very important to ensure appropriate execution, it helps to clarify doubts or provide additional information.  Not all people is good following written instructions, for some it is better to talk, at least by phone.

Although there are times when there is no other way but to send emails, when possible talking face to face should be the preferred way of communication.  Face to face is not warranty of effective communication either, but at least you can ask questions and receive answer faster.  Also with the chance to see people’s reaction, you can listen to their words and see their body language.

The approach to fix communication problems is no different to the one used to fix any problem, go back to the basics.  Communication is always better when we use the basic principles: deliver a complete and clear message, be concise, use facts to support the message, use examples if possible.  Another basic thing, real communication is two ways, it has a sender and a receiver; allow the receiver to send back to you his/her ideas, concerns or questions.  Doing the basics is not enough, follow-up is critical; circle back to those you reach out and make sure the instructions execution is as planned.


The Beginning, Training Program

Got a new job?

Don’t waste time learning the “tricks of the trade.” Instead, learn the trade. ~James Charlton

Different times in my life, for various reasons; I decided to embark on a new job.  For years,  I worked for the top three competitors of the same food category.  The transition between them was fairly easy because although different companies, being the same business segment they also had a lot of similarities.  But then one day, I decided to shake up things a bit and went out of my comfort accepting a job offer in a new industry.

How you set up yourself to be successful on a new job?  During the interview process you advertise all your skills and experience and now is time to show it.  As manager, I recruited many people during my career and my objective is to help them to be successful.  With that in mind, I guide them through a couple of steps, which are the same I followed.

First thing is to make sure that you fully understand your role.  Get that job description and read it, highlight those items that are not very clear, ask what they mean.  If you did your assignment, during the interview process you ask most of the questions but ensure you know all the expectations; performance appraisal goals, work hours, travel  and others.

My second step it to meet the key people.  Start with your own department and continue with all the others.  If you are in a new industry, like I was; you will have to learn the process and those things that are different and unique to this new one. A good way to do this is to ask the department managers for an overview of their processes and if it is possible to spend some hours with the people who perform those processes. There is no better way to learn than going to the gemba and see.

This step is very important because can set the tone of how your relationship with all these people will be.  Be respectful with their time. listen carefully, learn from their experiences.  Let them explain you those things they are proud of, make questions, engage on the conversation and ask for advice.  How you can you help them?  What they think should be your top priorities? Identify the people who is willing and able to help you, those with more experience who can me like a mentor for you.

How much time you spend to go thorough those steps depend on you, the company and of course your boss.  I think this process can be anywhere from a month to three months.  Knowing how your department and your role relates with the whole is very helpful to create your work plan.  If everything went as expected, also you build the foundation for a successful work relationship with your peers.  You don’t need any tricks, just to work letting your experience be an asset but not a road block to your learning process.