Perfection is like chasing the horizon, keep moving!
One of the biggest challenges we have is our employees turn over rate. With a very consistent 10% to 11% percent rate, we need to get back to the basic training all the time. Almost every day when we visit the gemba we found somebody new that is not following standards or is creating and sending to the next station bad products. Obviously is lack of training and follow-up from supervisors.
Every year when we revise our achievements of the previous one and decide which will be the goals we hesitate on what percentage of improvement would be achievable yet not too easy. What makes us hesitate? The employees turn over rate is the reason. With new people at gemba every week our supervisors have their hands full just doing basic training. Most of the available time for training is used for regulatory and basic training for the newcomers. What about our continuous improvement projects? What happened with the kaizen?
We need to keep those things going at the same time, all the time. If we don’t kaizen every day, everywhere we are not living the continuous improvement spirit! Two steps forward and one step back is ok, inertia; not moving at all is not ok. We can never be too tired to try, we can never be too tired to kaizen.
We all live great moments during our Lean Journeys where almost everything looks so perfect! People participate, try to achieve! Most of what we tried works! Is like being at the top of the world! All of us like being there, all of us like to have new reasons for celebration. But those moments do not last forever, there are others when the harder we try, the harder we fall. Is during those moments that we feel tired of trying, exhausted.
Is during those times of drought when we need to prove yourself that we are good leaders. Is during those moments that we need to motivate yourself and our people to continue our ride. The mere act of trying, not let yourself feel defeated, the desire to go back to the top of the world, that is the motivation. That motivation resides within us, waiting for us ready to fuel our efforts to overcome the current challenge. We are student-teachers, we need to learn how to refuel our motivation and not let the lighthouse beam out of our sight to teach others how to do it. I like to lead by example, when people recognize you as a leader they follow your example. If you show everybody that you are tired, everybody will give up as well and the Lean Journey will be doom. Tired? Take a small rest and go back to the battle! Stagnation or inertia are no options.
Not everything that shines is gold, and not everybody that claims to be a Lean consultant is. One day, a group from our corporate office came to visit accompanied by a Lean Manufacturing consultant that they hire. Their experienced consultant came to see our operations and my boss asked me to create a short presentation of our lean journey.
I think that the best presentation ever is the one our employees will do while walking the gemba, but my boss still thinks is good to have powerpoint presentations before going to see. The day and time indicated I present the highlights of our journey. I showed how we design our construction blocks to build our Lean Operations. I showed the VSM we created with our door to door operations, I highlighted the kaizen bursts we identified. Later I talked about our training, Lean Introduction, 5S, POUS, Visual Management, TPM, Kanban, and others. Then I showed examples of how we applied these tools at different areas from receiving to packaging, including the maintenance shops, laboratory, materials warehouse, and the chemicals room. Finally, I presented a slide with the PDCA of all the kaizen we “finished” or have in progress.
Our corporate visitors were impressed by all the progress showed, especially in terms of dollars and cents but the lean expert was utterly quiet. He did not say too much at the end of the meeting either. At the end of the day, my boss told me that after I left the consultant was saying that he doesn’t believe in VSM and much less on TPM, SMED, 5S training or any kind of visual management. The only thing he recommended to continue working with was kanbans through the whole plant, this will create flow; he said.
I don’t have a lot of experience with Lean, but my humble experience has been enough to know that working with the basic tools of lean helps to prepare the plant for the stabilization, standardization and quick change-over we need to create the flow needed for supply to our customers what they need when they need at the expected quality or better.
Be careful, there are a lot of people out there trying to grab a bunch of money from you saying that they are lean experts. They come, see, talk, talk and talk about what you should do without saying how to do it and left with their pockets full of money leaving you worse than before.
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!
In two different companies where I worked, I had the pleasure to work with the same VP of Operations. Over the years we get to know each other pretty well and developed a very good relationship based on mutual respect. We challenge each other all the time and that makes our work more interesting. He was old school: push more cases out the door, get them faster, the cost per case is the most important key performance metric! His point of view and my lean thinking were always in a constant battle.
One metric that is very important for us is the yield, how much of the initial raw weight ends up on a can. From time to time we have occasional issues with low yield and every time I used lean tools to find out the root cause and create new countermeasures. During one of those seasonal events of low yield, my boss and I had our usual discussion of what the corrective actions will be; this time I was totally blank; not a single idea of how to proceed. He noticed my hesitation and then he told me: just need to do one thing, go back to the basics.
On our busy lives, it is pretty easy to overwhelm by so many things going at the same time that we can’t find a tree in a forest. The most obvious things are in front of us and we can’t see! If that happens we have to go back to the basics, we have to remember always the ground rules for practicing kaizen in the gemba: housekeeping, muda elimination, and standardization.
My old boss was right, in case of doubt; always go back to the basics!