Continuous Improvement, Work Standards

What is Standard Work?


We need standards in our work areas to provide a guide for our employees to do their job.  Standard work is a simple written description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way known to perform a particular task.  Once a standard is established it becomes the only acceptable way to do the process it describes.   Standards are not written in stone, the expectation is to improve them continuously.

When creating standard work is important to focus on the employee and not the equipment or materials.  We are looking to ensure effective consistent work.  Involve a group of your employees to help on building the standard, this will minimize the resistance and increase the chances of identifying the best process.

A famous quote attributed to Taiichi Ohno says “Without standards, there can be no kaizen”.   If you don’t know how you are doing something or if you are not consistent on the way you are doing it there is no way you can do it better.  Standard work is the foundation of continuous improvement, yet it is the piece of the improvement that many organizations fail to implement.  In companies where the average employee have five years or more of experience and the turn over rate is very low, managers feel that standards are not necessary because everybody knows their jobs and they do not hire new employees very often.

But, is everybody doing things in the same way?  What is going to happen when that very talented and very experienced team retire?  How you make sure you retain their knowledge?  That is where standard procedures came very handy, they document the best way to do the work and provide an excellent tool for new hires and to ensure there is only one way to do things.

 

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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 make decisions, is what we do every day.  Some managers still make decisions based on month-end reports discussion during a staff meeting.  Those reports are like a post-mortem analysis, they only say what happened in 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!

Training Program

Why a job description is important?

Whenever you are evaluating if you are a good fit for that position posted on the bulletin board or you have been promoted, the job description is your best ally to learn the primary functions of the job, required qualifications including physical, work conditions and relationship with other positions.  This document plays an important role in your onboarding process and provides the basis for future performance appraisals.

If you are the hiring manager, the job description (JD) will be a great tool to communicate all the critical information regarding the position.  Clear and complete information detailing the responsibilities and expectations of the job are very important to minimize or eliminate confusion and the feeling of not knowing the expectations.  A  JD is also a legal document, you want a well written JD to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or in case an employee files a lawsuit.

To ensure the job description is aligned with the company goals and culture, I like to incorporate it into the training program, being the spine of the training program design.  In a continuous improvement or lean culture, the job description includes the skills and requirements to support the activities associated with it.  Every task needs to be covered during training, this is a good way to ensure the onboarding is successful and show respect by establishing a good foundation for the employee’s success.  Nothing better for a good employee-employer relationship than to start with a well-designed training created with the employee on the mind.

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 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.