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

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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, if will happen again.  After the root cause identification standardize to prevent 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 stating point to start the investigation process.

Good measurements are critical for kaizen, they provide a picture of the current process.  Metrics needs 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.

Gemba Management, The Beginning

Learning Lean

At the beginning; you may see Lean as something abstract, too idealistic to be true; but after you got the basic ideas everything starts to make sense.  Once you understand the power of lean, you started to live according with its philosophy and use its tools.  If you try to do this on your own, people will start to look at you like you fall from the moon.  While you will looked weird for some, some others will be curious.  Lean is not a one person show, lean is about people and its behavior, lean is a way of live.

I learn to go everyday to gemba and see what happen around, identify what was wrong was the easy part.  Learning how to spark curiosity from the employees regarding what I was doing without making them feel threaten took a lot of tim. I am still practicing how to approach, how to ask and how to engage them into my activity.  I need them to be as curious as I am, remember this is not a one person show.

I have cats, and they are really curious, when one of them see something that call her attention, pretty soon the other joins her and both stick their eyes with laser precision into the matter in question.  That is what we need to do, focus on the situation and don’t let it go until we fix it!

Lean Trainings, Waste

What is Lean Thinking?

Right after we started with the Lean trainings and early stages of implementation, I was very glad to recognize between some of our employees strong signals of lean thinking.  One of the hot topics at our plant is waste, but the waste management talk about is ingredients or materials wastage.  After our trainings the employees start to talked about how to improve certain parts of the operation.  They gave very good examples of waste as per the seven categories of waste by Taiichi Ohno that we discussed on our trainings. One think that we stressed a lot during our Introduction to Lean is the lean thinking, how important is to change our mind from the traditional thinking to the lean thinking.  This part of the presentation is always an eyes opener.  People amaze by this “new” point of view.  That curiosity is also full of doubts: Is it for real?  Would the bosses really going to leave their offices and come to the work area?

Lean Thinking

Lean is about respecting the people, in the name of that respect we can’t lie.  The words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, “Go see, ask why, show respect” are basic lean principles. If we say that we are going to do something, we have to do it.  We have to go to Gemba and see!  Once we are there and see, we need to ask with respect why.  Questioning the right way is an art, people needs to feel comfortable, the focus is on the problem not the people.

We have to lead by example, the lean thinking is not just information is way of life, is a philosophy.  Living that philosophy we put together the stones to build a culture that makes people want to take ownership of their workplace.  When people shows that they care we as leaders needs to show them respect, listening their ideas and guide them through the PDCA cycle.  We can not let them down, after all, lean is about respecting the people”

Lean Trainings, The Beginning

Intimidated by the Lean Jargon?

One thing about Lean Manufacturing that scares many people is the slang.  Some people is curious about what those words means, others are sarcastic about why we need to use japanese words and others are just scared.  I have to admit that the first time I read a book about Lean was confused. I was intimidated for a few seconds: gemba, gembutsu, kaizen, kanban, jidoka, heijunka and others.

Regardless that first shock, I decided to embrace the words and although I am still confused sometimes with those that I barely used, there are a lot more that I used very often.  One of those that I used every day is gemba.  Before the times on which the management team decided to learn more and practice lean; I was the only one who used that word.  I remember one time on which our IT manager come to help me with some technical problems with my email and he was the word gemba on my calendar and was so curious about the meaning that he had to ask.

Lean does not use only japanese words, there are a lot more of english terms and acronyms that sometimes are not easy to follow or the meaning is different to what we know:  TPM, value added, JIT, PDCA, pull system,visual management, 5S, A3, waste.

In 2012, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) started to work towards maximizing its value to customer agencies and the people of Oregon.  They implemented an entrepreneurial management business model and using tools that contribute to continuous improvement. Those tools included the use of lean manufacturing principles.  DAS employees started to systematically eliminate waste, improve quality, and increase customer satisfaction.  They publish their transformation glossary, which I found very useful.

Get over the words, with the time you will get used to them and more than that, you will start using them without problems.  The people around you will get used to them as well, although I have to tell you, not without give you weird looks first.