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, 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.

Motivation, Workplace

Is it better together?

“The running thread through my career has been the notion that when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together in collective effort, things change for the better,” President Obama

Do you remember when you were a child and your parents ask you to clean your room?  Not that you wanted to do it but if you had to do it anyway you wanted to do it your way.  But you mother insisted in telling you where you have to store every action figure, every puzzle, every little thing you have.  After a short but intense struggle you end up doing what she said.

When we are trying to improve a process, most of the time we feel the urgency to jump straight to the answer without even asking what happen.  That same urgency push us to tell people what we think has to be done without asking for their input.  Imposing ideas in the work place is never a good way to improve the process much less the work environment.  It is just like the children following his mother’s instructions with reluctance, not a single intention of make it work.

A visit to the gemba is never complete without interaction with the employees. Observation of the process is critical but when the time comes to ask for why’s, do not ask yourself or other managers, ask the person(s) doing that process.  Even if the answer is obvious, you need to engage the employees by asking with respect, guiding them through the root cause analysis process.  Allow them the chance to express their ideas and proof them right.  If they were wrong, still there is a learning process.  Take the learn lessons with you and guide them through a start over.

The more people participate from this process, more and better ideas will come through and together we will change things for the better.  That is the spirit of a problem solving people focused workplace.


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 on 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 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 prefered 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, 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 on their skills which help to empower and motivate them.  Effective training will also impacts 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.