Lean Trainings

Are you still thinking that training is not important?

Not much time ago, I visited a packaging plant that used to be the best of all their company facilities.  The plant performance, from quality to on-time delivery, from safety to operating costs was excellent.  This was possible thanks to their work force stability.  Most of the employees had more than 15 years of experience, very committed with the company and very knowledgeable of their procedures and policies.

One day for reasons out of their control, they lost almost 50% of their hourly team and was necessary to replace them with temporary employees.  The people coming, apparently with no reasons or desire to stay; walk out the door almost as fast as they come in.  The turnover rate grow exponentially from less that 1% to way more than 100%.  Why they leave?

Have you tried to assemble a piece of furniture? You start putting the thing together with great difficulty.  You scream, you curse, you are really aggravated, frustrated.  The instructions provided may help or not; most probably every time you read them you become more frustrated.  Out of frustration, you want to quit and most probably you will and let somebody else to deal with the problem.  Most probably, that is what happened on the plant I mentioned before.  There is no formal training program, new people come in and start working with some training, after several supervisors intervention for defects or downtime, frustrated employees walk out.

Everything starts with the hiring process, identifying the right candidates, people with values and beliefs that match those of the company.  If the candidate is not a match with these or the company culture, it will not stay long.  But even if the candidate is a match, no training, proper instructions and follow-up can frustrate the person up to a point where if feels neglected.

Training is highly important, especially during the first ninety days.  If things go wrong during the probation period, most probably it will not be any better later.  During this time, companies are also on probation, employees are also checking on how they are treated, how well they like the environment, how they feel being part of it.  Are we giving them any reason to stay or commit with the company?  What are we doing to attract and retain the best employees?  Are we doing anything to understand their needs?  If not, we better start soon, companies can gain or lose World Class Employees during that time.

Work Standards

Why do we have standards?

“Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen” – Taiichi Ohno

Not long time ago I was talking with a college about the reasons for unsuccessful lean implementations.  I shared with him this time on which after a very successful launch, suddenly everything stop working.  I had no idea of the reason until one day when talking with one of our managers with previous experience on a lean manufacturing environment he said, “you know what is our problem?  That we are using standards to make people accountable and take disciplinary actions if they do not”.

Standards are mean to be a guidance to ensure effective consistent work.  We cannot penalize our employees for making mistakes, that is how we learn.  Just like in our private lives we used symbols to mark our milestones and set our path to happiness, standards are tools to show us the current right way to complete a task in a such a way that we will satisfy our customer needs.

Standards are not written on stone, they are not static but dynamic, change over time.  They shall change because they are the baseline for continuous improvement.  Kaizen or continuous improvement is a lot about experimenting with new things, try something new and see how the outcome changes.  As managers we need to be aware that experiments are not always successful.  The real value is that we try something different, we did not accept something just because we always do it that way!

We need to use standards to set the right path to customer satisfaction and to inspire our employees to improve their process.  An employee who is owner of the process and actively participate from the continuous improvement process, is an employee who cares and therefore feels greater levels of job satisfaction.  With the right mentorship, our employees will be problem solvers, better professionals; and of course if they feel better by the time they get back home they will be better people as well.

TPM

Why is so difficult to implement TPM?

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is a method to achieve maximum equipment effectiveness through employee involvement.  TPM achieves efficiency by building a comprehensive maintenance system based on respect for individuals and total employee participation.  It brings together people from different departments, from top managers down to work in small groups activities.

During the last couple of months I had conversations with several plant managers from different companies and the priority for almost all of them is the TPM implementation.  When you look at the benefits of this system it is easy to understand why; the improved equipment productivity brings with it reduced scrap, improved on-time delivery, lowered maintenance and manufacturing costs and enhanced job satisfaction.

TPM is one of the hardest lean tools to implement if not the most difficult.  To accomplish all those things mentioned before we need to change people’s attitudes.  There are a lot of traditional ideas from which we have to walk away as a team.

Let’s start with the top management, if we as leaders don’t change anybody else will change. Managers must make TPM a part of their daily activities, support and encourage all TPM activities, treat it as a priority for the organization, because it is a priority!  It is important to recognize that the TPM implementation is not easy and will take many years, the consistency to show support and lead by example will be critical through all those years.  Managers cannot fall into the tramp of “I have too much to do” and let the implementation on the hands of somebody else, it is top management responsibility to support TPM every day.

When something happen, everybody look for their supervisors; or worst, for their managers to answer the question, what we need to do?  We need to move away from this traditional behavior in which only supervisors and managers take decisions and operators receive instructions.  Managers need to practice, encourage and promote certain behaviors like: go and see, ask why, respect others, try new ideas, communicate your concerns, be a team player!

The preconceived idea that the machine operators work is to operate the machine and maintenance work is to fix it is one of the hardest to change.  With that idea in mind, operators stop the machine and call maintenance to tight a screw or align a sensor.  They know what to do but “is not their work” causing a lot of downtime.  On the other side, the maintenance crew work more as firefighters, running through the whole production floor from one emergency to the next.  They never stop to analyze the faults or breakdowns to figure out their root cause to be able to design a solution to prevent it from happening again.  TPM promotes small group activities, honest and respectful discussions about how to obtain the best of each equipment.  Production, maintenance and quality needs to work together to investigate the reason for defects, find out the best solution, coordinate how and when to fix those problems and follow-up to adjust the plan or change the standards.

I leave this one for the end,  but certainly is not less important.  The idea that product quality is responsibility of the quality department is completely wrong!  Quality is everybody’s responsibility, from top management down.  Everything we do, affects the final quality of the product and therefore the final outcome of whether or not we accomplish our customer expectations.  Managers need to redefine quality, to include not only the product quality, but the people’s relationship quality (with emphasis in respect), our daily work quality (including quality of maintenance), materials, tools and processes quality.

Like I said before, TPM implementation is not easy; but the process although overwhelming at some points is very rewarding most of the time.  It is and incredible journey for everybody, but as a leader there is hardly a bigger reward to your hard work than looking at your employees taking care of their own problems with a huge satisfaction face, knowing that they are the owners of the process, that they are not followers but influencers, thinking people, treated with respect.