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.

Continuous Improvement, Motivation

To lead your team so they can led you

It happens time after time, I feel down and our employees cheer me up!

As leaders, we are responsible for the lives of our employees but yet many of us don’t understand that important piece of our job.  When I started to work as a team leader, my father told me a couple of rules that he always followed himself.  His first rule was to always respect the people, never ask them to do something you are not willing to do yourself.  The second rule was to never forget that you are responsible for them, their security, their learning and their success.

Over the years I kept these rules as my north, nothing like practice to learn day by day how to be a better leader.  Through the years I learned that employees look up to their supervisors until they don’t.  When the supervisor show no respect or care, people stop respecting them and after that their committment and motivation are gone too.

I make a conscious effort every day to respect. lead, motivate, develop, recognize the good, teach the right way and never get complacent using continuous improvement as the road map to success.  Some days are better than others, but something of this is working because I have seen many of my employees to grow up to become great leaders.  I can tell the difference between employees that enjoy their jobs and those who do not.  When you find those employees on your way, their passion and attitude towards their work cheer you up.

Our job as leaders is to exercise our responsibility and keep working to positively affect the lives of our employees.  Motivation, positivism and committment are contagious, let’s spread it!

Continuous Improvement, Workplace

New Year Resolutions

Many of us do it every year, keep up for a couple of weeks, maybe months and then forget about it.  Yup, I am talking about the New Year resolutions.  The resolution can be just about anything; the most popular are: exercise more, lose weight, eat more healthy and learn a new skill or hobbies.  The workplace is no different, although not as popular as resolutions for our private life, they can be great for us as well.

Here are a few ideas for workplace resolution:

  • Learn something new, get out of the office and take that training that you really want to have and never has time for it.
  • Step out of your comfort zone – ask to be transfer to another department or even a different location, follow your dreams, get out of the comfort zone and invest on your future.
  • Listen more – we spend so much time talking that sometimes tend to forget that listening is even more important.
  • Mentoring, coaching – We never has time to develop our staff, we need to make time and start developing those diamonds on the rough.
  • Make new contacts – leave early and participate from that get to together from your professional association, meet new people, you never know when you going to need those new contacts.
  • Make time for you – exercise, practice your hobbie, spend more time with family.

As professionals we need to invest in ourself as much as we try to invest on our work areas.  Continuous improvement applies to individuals also, be an example for your people!

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.



Work Standards

Why do we have standards?

“Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen” – Taiichi Ohno

Not long time ago I was talking with a college about the reasons for unsuccessful lean implementations.  I shared with him this time on which after a very successful launch, suddenly everything stop working.  I had no idea of the reason until one day when talking with one of our managers with previous experience on a lean manufacturing environment he said, “you know what is our problem?  That we are using standards to make people accountable and take disciplinary actions if they do not”.

Standards are mean to be a guidance to ensure effective consistent work.  We cannot penalize our employees for making mistakes, that is how we learn.  Just like in our private lives we used symbols to mark our milestones and set our path to happiness, standards are tools to show us the current right way to complete a task in a such a way that we will satisfy our customer needs.

Standards are not written on stone, they are not static but dynamic, change over time.  They shall change because they are the baseline for continuous improvement.  Kaizen or continuous improvement is a lot about experimenting with new things, try something new and see how the outcome changes.  As managers we need to be aware that experiments are not always successful.  The real value is that we try something different, we did not accept something just because we always do it that way!

We need to use standards to set the right path to customer satisfaction and to inspire our employees to improve their process.  An employee who is owner of the process and actively participate from the continuous improvement process, is an employee who cares and therefore feels greater levels of job satisfaction.  With the right mentorship, our employees will be problem solvers, better professionals; and of course if they feel better by the time they get back home they will be better people as well.