Continuous Improvement

Do you care?

When top leaders don’t care, why employees will?  My first couple of weeks on a new job are always dedicated to learn about the culture, processes and identify the opportunities and challenges of the place.  Every business unit has its own KPI’s and regardless of how good or not, the department is performing against those KPI’s always is critical to have the people support to be able to improve.  People will not be engaged with any improvement process or support any changes if they are not treated with respect and see an honest desire to change the status quo, not just “make the numbers”.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to be a problem-solving expert to get better results.  What you need is to be consistent with your message, you need to talk the talk but more importantly, walk the talk.  If you are enforcing housekeeping rules or clean as you go mentality but you walk over trash and don’t even say something to somebody to clean it up, you are delivering a contradictory message.  A better message will be if you pick it up yourself or help the people who will come to do it.

When you stop to say hi to your operators, try to know them and talk not just about what they are doing but about how they are doing it and how they feel, you show them that you care about the human being.  If you approach them for positive enforcement and not just to say that they can do something different they will listen every time.

If you are consistent with your message and how you act, your team will learn to do the same, you will lead them by example.  If you show that you care, they will care.  The contrary is also true, if you don’t care about what is going on, they will not care either.  You want to change attitudes and behaviors? start with your own, show your commitment and priorities and your team will follow you.

Lean Trainings, Motivation, Training Program

Is your training program effective?

When every root cause analysis we complete points out lack of training as the cause of the non-conformance situation, we have a problem.  I am not talking only about traditional supervisors and managers blaming the people instead of focusing on the process.  I refer to the case on which a thorough root cause analysis with multi-department participation and honest deep discussion identify training as the main problem, but no just lack of training but the effectiveness of the training.

Why training is not effective?  Perhaps we are using the wrong method.  People can learn in different ways, each person has a preferred style of learning: auditory, visual or tactile.  If we design our training in such a way that we only provide methods that cover one style, we left out part of all our employees.  Not effective training led to frustration which is a cause of high turnover rate.

Depending on the size of our company we can go different routes: we can either prepare a training that accommodates to different styles or we can get to know our employees better by doing some kind of test to determine their preferred way of learning.  This information can help to design the training knowing on what learning type we should focus more or if possible divide the audience by learning type If it is possible to have different versions of the same training, an individual can choose their training method based on their style.

Learning Types

Effective training help to reduce the stress of our employees and increase their level of confidence in their skills which help to empower and motivate them.  Effective training will also impact directly employee retention and turnover.  Show respect to your people by providing them the right tools to do their job, practice being humble by accepting that maybe they know more than you what would be the best way to do their job.



Continuous Improvement, Waste

Lean is Fun!

Last week I was watching a video from Paul Akers, Lean Maniac, founder and president of FastCap LLC and author of 2 Second Lean. On that video, he passionately described lean as simple and fun.  That description makes me smile.

During my personal lean journey, I worked with different consultants and lean practitioners.  They all have one thing in common, regardless of their experience and knowledge, in my opinion, they complicated things too much.  I was thinking all the time that we should keep things simple.  People have different preferred ways to learn but most of us like to receive information in a simple way.  The simple the better to understand and learn.  When you understand things, you will see how useful they are and as you try and see that they work, you definitely have fun.

People don’t need to know the history behind lean, not thousands of examples of situations that are not familiar to them, not formulas or complicated programs.  All they need to know is the basics. The basics of lean are simple:  respect for people and continuous improvement.  By doing those two things we will eliminate waste, improve quality and by default improve customer satisfaction and reduce operational costs.

We show respect when we genuinely ask how we can help to make our employees’ tasks easier and work with them to eliminate the burden from their processes.  When they actively participate in the improvement process, having the chance to bring their point of view and implement their ideas, they go home feeling that they accomplish something,. By giving them the tools to apply continuous improvement on their areas we also give them the tools to have fun while they work, being creative, have some control of the process and learn things that may be used on their personal lives.

Motivation, The Beginning

Focus on the process!


During my lean journey, one of the toughest things has always been changing behaviors and old styles.  In one of my work experiences, this was especially difficult.

Manufacturing environments are always challenging, full of stress to get things done.  While machine breakdowns, processing problems, and quality issues make it harder, relationships between co-workers are frustrating sometimes.  For traditional supervisors and managers, the people is always the problem, lack of commitment, lack of training, or simple laziness are some of the reasons for mistakes that they will mention.

The heart of any lean manufacturing initiatives shall be the people.  Without our people, factories will not make any profit regardless of how many robots and automatic processes we have.  Training, empowerment, listen to operators ideas and concerns, take in consideration and implement those feasible ideas and facilitate a resolution for their concerns are ways to show that we do care for our employees.  Another way is focusing on the process, equipment or any out of compliance situation when problems arise instead of blaming on the people.

Next time problems we found things at gemba out of standard focus on the process, not the people.  We need to assume the people want to learn, be accountable and help in the company success, not the contrary.


Never Forget!

Yesterday, fourteen years ago we lived one of the darkest days in USA history.  The 9-11 anniversary was everywhere on the internet and while I was browsing it I remember the ceremonies from 4 years ago.  During the ceremony, the speaker said that out of the horrible reality of the thousands who died that day and the collective fear that comes after, something good born that day. For years the only time New Yorker’s thought about their neighbors was to wish that they don’t bother, but that day was born a sense of concern, a need to know whether or not those living around you are well. Greeting neighbors and strangers became a habit.

The purpose of the attacks was to rob Americans the sense of freedom, of being able to go anywhere and talk about what they want with the person they want.  Just after the attacks, many were locked in their homes for fear of what might happen. They were afraid to be who they are, to live according to their beliefs and dreams.

Some terrorists live among us. I worked between terrorists, people who attack your lifestyle to steal your peace and your dreams. There are people who live their lives through others, some are just imitators but few others steal your peace, sabotage your work and stand in your way like a roadblock.  During my lean journey, I found some terrorists, people who try to undermine our efforts, kidnapped our ideas and ultimately control our actions.   For a lean implementation success, people are the most important asset.  It is possible to show respect in different ways.

If that sense of neighborhood was really born that day, then it was also the day on which the neighbors start to show respect to each other, respect on the form of being humble and humility and understand that there are things bigger than them and together they will be better prepared to face any challenge.

Never ForgetBack in the gemba, there are people who play the role of terrorists who plant the seeds of fear and distrust on their peers.  Our role as managers and lean students is to educate and support our employees through training and by showing respect during our gemba walks.  America is now better because we learn that we have people around that don’t believe in what we believe but if we respect those that share our beliefs, they will be there with us whenever we need them. Our workplaces will be better when respect for the people become one of our priorities, never forget that.