Continuous Improvement, Kaizen, Work Standards

Why choosing the right metrics is important?

“What gets measured, gets managed”. ~Peter Drucker

There is no kaizen without standards, and we cannot establish standards without measurements.

Standards are required to efficiently manage the work areas on a daily basis.  Every time problems arise, managers should go to gemba to revise the existing standards, investigate what happened and identify the root cause for the non-conformance.  Sometimes, the problem is that there is no standard.  To be able to understand the problem and later on create standards we need to collect data of the current status and analyze it.  Why happened? When? How?  As soon as you answer these questions, establish a temporary countermeasure on the spot and then find the root cause.  If the real cause of the problem is not identified, it will happen again.  After the root cause identification standardizes to prevent a recurrence.

The three major kaizen activities are standardization, 5S and elimination of Muda (waste).  All three requires gathering some kind of data and analyze it to get improvements.  A lack of 5S can be considered a sign of inefficiency.  A good 5S program, on the other hand, is very helpful to identify right away non-conformance situations and facilitate the starting point to start the investigation process.

Good measurements are critical for kaizen, they provide a picture of the current process.  Metrics need to be aligned with the company KPI’s and easy to understand by the production floor employees. The metrics selection, their accuracy, and precision are very important to the success of the continuous improvement activities.  Wrong or inaccurate metrics will lead us to take wrong decisions.



Every step of the journey we need to have metrics to measure the effect of kaizen on our processes.  After every value stream map event, we come out with the list of kaizen we need to close the gap between current and future state.  After our first couple of events, things did not go as planned.  After checking the goals we had for those events and brainstorm with the group about possible reasons for doubtful results on our kaizen events we concluded that the problem was the way we set up our goals.

SMART is an acronym giving criteria to guides in the setting of objectives.  Goals need to be:

Specific: An specific goal needs to answer what are the requirements, who is responsible, what to do, when and where.

Measurable:  How much? How many? Specify the units.

Attainable: Goals needs to be challenging but attainable.

Realistic:  Again, keep your feet on the ground.  We would like to shoot for the moon but can we really reach it?

Timely:  Set a time frame.

Following these guides, we ensure that we define our objectives and goals clearly so that no open interpretations affect the results.  We learn the lesson, now we are SMART!


Kaizen, Lean Tools

How we create a Kaizen Culture?

For me, the most challenging part of the lean journey is a culture change.  Humans do not like change, once people feel comfortable with their current situation; change is evil.  With Lean, we move people out of their comfort zones right from the beginning.

The lean thinking requires that we start to think and act different, a change of attitudes and culture is imperative.  Like I indicated earlier, people do not like change; therefore the Lean Journey is never easy.  Requires a lot of effort, time and repetitive behavior just to convince people Lean is a serious thing.

When we start talking about “Go and See” people are skeptical, but if we really go and see every day, they will start to believe.  If every time a problem arise we go and see; and together with our employees, we start to ask why until we get the root cause, they will believe.  The Kaizen culture is about continuous improvement, which will happen only if we learn and teach our employees problem-solving tools.  We need to empower them to make decisions, create an escalating process so that they know when its time to ask help from a supervisor or manager.

Kaizen is about kept trying every day, is about refusing to accept the status quo and work to improve the current state.  PDCA cycle is a living tool, we go, see, plan, do, check and act or adjust.  It is an organized way to do trial and error, people like to jump to conclusions.  We need to learn how to define the problems, find the root cause and organize the possible solutions and further action.  This is an acquired habit, something we learn to do and the best way to learn is with practice.  Lead by example, ask why, attack waste relentlessly, don’t miss any training opportunity.  It is ok to make mistakes from time to time, the only failure is to stop trying.  Kaizen every day, everybody, everywhere; that is the continuous improvement spirit!


Who is invited to the party?

Even when I am not facilitating training or events, I like to walk by and participate or sometimes just listen and observe the employees participation.  This is something that always helps me to measure how well our new lean culture is progressing.

There is one kaizen event on which I am really interested because is impacting one critical area that has the potential to positively affect the areas upstream and downstream in more than one way: safety, OEE, quality product release cycle time, inventory accuracy and WIP (work in process) reduction.  They started building their own value stream current state and identifying all the kaizen bursts.  The team meetings are usually very intense, the participation level is great and the discussion is pretty good.  One day though, something was wrong because the energy was different.

They were working on the future state and the discussion was bit heated.  One of the supervisors was utterly quiet, which immediately calls my attention.  During the meeting, the facilitator asks her about one of the proposed ideas and her answer was:  ” I don’t know! I don’t work there!  Ups, all my alarms went off! Next day, I visited her at the gemba and after some small talking, I asked her about kaizen.  In the beginning, she was a bit hesitant to tell but then she indicated that it is just not right to discuss how to organize the area and change the flow if any of the team members are actually hands-on working on the area.  After that, I felt like a train ran over me!  Gosh!  How right she was!  How in the world I did not notice that!

Right before this event started, we were introducing the concept of “the next process is the customer”, the group have people downstream and upstream, and the team leaders and supervisors from the area but nobody from the actual doers.  We have to invest in our people, empower the people!  How these guys will feel when we call them to show a new process!  Right off the bat, everything will be wrong, and at the end will happen only what they allow to happen.  We can not go to other people house to mess with it!

Thanks to the sharpness of this supervisor we realized our mistake and from the next meeting, new team members started to participate.  We all learn a lesson, the process owners are the first ones to receive the event invitation always!

Lean Tools, Value Stream Map

Value Stream Map

I remember the first time I saw a Value Stream Map, I was completely amazed by how simple and at the same time complete that tool was.  As an industrial engineer, I was very used to using flow diagrams and layout drawings but never occurred to me to put both concepts together (although on a different way to the traditional one) to map the process.

John Shook and Mike Rother on their book “Learning to See“, defined Value Stream as all the actions currently required to bring a product through the main flows essential to every product.  Could be the production flow from the raw material into the arms of the customer or the design flow from concept to launch.

The main purpose of this mapping process, as the name suggests is to identify the value of every step.  Through the use of this tool, we classify every activity as value-added or non-value added, it allows you to see the waste and plan to eliminate it.  Also, it helps to identify kaizen opportunities along with the whole material and information flow.  With the value stream map analysis we see the whole process flow which is great to connect all improvement initiatives.  Normally we tried to improve the single process level, but with the value stream map, we can connect the dots and see how each level is affected by the previous one or affects the next one.

We always start drawing the current state and then we visualize how the ideal process would be and create this future state value stream map.  How we close the gap between current and future processes is the funny part.  This is where all the different lean manufacturing basic tools come to our rescue: 5S, visual management, standardize work, Kaizen, brainstorming, 5 Why’s, JIT, Kanban, TPM, OEE, PDCA, root cause analysis and others.

In my opinion, we should start the Lean journey creating the value stream map, both current and future state and then draw your road map, how you plan to go from A to B.  Creating a new map with the new current state is always satisfying because that only means that you take another step on your lean journey.  Enjoy the ride!