At Home, Five S, The Beginning

Do you practice 5S at home?

The beauty of 5S is that is simple and can be used everywhere.  In one of my recent 5S implementations, I was not getting the buying from my maintenance crew. That changed when I mentioned examples of 5S at home.  Let’s face it, nobody want to lose their tools or waste time looking for them. What we want is to work on that project we are so passionate about.  You need a tool, you know you have it but, where it is?

During my lean journey, 5S is one of the tools that I use more. I always start the lean implementation with 5S. This training is very important because physically transform the area very fast. It is so easy to use that employees can learn and practice in a short period of time. This helps to build confidence on lean manufacturing.  That confidence also led the employees to try 5S at home.

I heard great stories of how they use 5S on their garages, home offices, and closets around the house.  It is funny to hear how they explain their spouses or partners how to organize the area and keep it organized.  The faced several challenges to make their families understand why and how. That experience help them understand our challenges at the plant. After that, they became advocates of the program.

If you have some cluttered areas around your house, 5S is the tool you need to get rid of them.  Try it, it’s worth it!  In future posts, I will present ideas that you can use at home.


The Beginning, Training Program

Got a new job?

Don’t waste time learning the “tricks of the trade.” Instead, learn the trade. ~James Charlton

Different times in my life, for various reasons; I decided to embark on a new job.  For years,  I worked for the top three competitors of the same food category.  The transition between them was fairly easy because although different companies, being the same business segment they also had a lot of similarities.  But then one day, I decided to shake up things a bit and went out of my comfort accepting a job offer in a new industry.

How you set up yourself to be successful in a new job?  During the interview process, you advertise all your skills and experience and now its time to show it.  As a manager, I recruited many people during my career and my objective is to help them to be successful.  With that in mind, I guide them through a couple of steps, which are the same I followed.

The first thing is to make sure that you fully understand your role.  Get that job description and read it, highlight those items that are not very clear, ask what they mean.  If you did your assignment, during the interview process you ask most of the questions but ensure you know all the expectations; performance appraisal goals, work hours, travel and others.

My second step is to meet the key people.  Start with your own department and continue with all the others.  If you are in a new industry, you will have to learn the process and those things that are different and unique to this new one. A good way to do this is to ask the department managers for an overview of their processes and if it is possible to spend some hours with the people who perform those processes. There is no better way to learn than going to the gemba and see.

This step is very important because can set the tone of how your relationship with all these people will be.  Be respectful of their time. listen carefully, learn from their experiences.  Let them explain to you those things they are proud of, make questions, engage in the conversation and ask for advice.  How can you help them?  What they think should be your top priority? Identify the people who are willing and able to help you, those with more experience who can be like a mentor for you.

How much time you spend to go through those steps depend on you, the company and of course your boss.  I think this process can be anywhere from a month to three months.  Knowing how your department and your role relates to the whole is very helpful to create your work plan.  If everything went as expected, also you build the foundation for a successful work relationship with your peers.  You don’t need any tricks, just work letting your experience be an asset but not a roadblock to your learning process.


The Beginning

Does the lean journey starts with layoffs?

When a workplace is just starting its lean journey, there are do’s and don’t do’s.  One important thing to do is, to be honest, and spell things with their name.  We all appreciate when our boss care enough, to be honest, this drives out fear which is a major roadblock for any improvement activity.  Trust is critical on any relationship; including the relationship with our employees.

Unfortunately still today we manage our companies based on headcount and objectives and measure the company health using accounting methods that glorify inventory on hand.  For those reasons, we are constantly looking at the wrong metrics which lead us to make drastic cuts in the budget, usually starting with people reduction.  When the crisis arrives and budget cuts are on the way people fear about job loss and work every day with extra stress and concerns.  Management then grabs whatever is available to keep the company alive and usually, that involves starting some continuous improvement effort and layoffs.

Do not start your budget cut exercise by cutting people, look for all sources of waste first.  If the company decide that a layoff is necessary, be careful with your actions as well as with your words.  Do not use the words lean and layoffs on the same sentence.  Sometimes we have too many people and is necessary to cut back on our total manpower if that is the case; be honest. and tell the employees upfront the real reason.  But do this only if after thoughtful analysis there is no other option.    After this, make a commitment with your employees that this will be the only time you will have layoffs, and please do not lie about this, say it only if you mean it.  Respect your employees, respect your commitment.

We do not want people to associate lean with layoffs because there is no way our employees will trust in anything that comes from “lean” if on their minds lean and layoffs goes together.  This sparks the fear and suspicious about the real reasons behind every single kaizen event or action we take.  Without trust, any continuous improvement initiative will fail.  There is no other way to be successful, we need to trust our employees, care about them, empower them to improve their processes and respect our word.  After all, we are family, we spend more time with them than with our blood families, that would be our way to show appreciation in the work area.


The Beginning

Authority or knowledge?

Some people are very passionate about lean manufacturing, so passionate that people recognize them for that.  The lean journey is so tough that even for that people is close to impossible to be successful on their lean journey if they are the only driven factor.

For a successful journey, we need more than one person with lean knowledge.  I found a couple of plant managers that believe that having one person with the words lean manufacturing on his/her title is the first step for the lean transformation.  This person would be dedicated to the lean manufacturing implementation, through training and kaizen events facilitation.  It is also expected that this person will do everything on its own and that is the first mistake.  Change attitudes and thinking ways is not easy, there are so many things that need to take care of, so much coaching, follow-up, training, facilitation, learning, and preparation. Without the resources or the authority to make it happen, the lean transformation is not feasible.

Every lean transformation effort needs a strong leader with the authority to make things happen, someone who can take bold decisions, somebody that the people will follow and respect.  This person does not need to be a lean expert, just someone who believes in lean and has the power to change things.  Of course, he or she will need resources that will introduce lean concepts to the whole organization beginning with the managers.  Authority without knowledge or knowledge without authority, either one of them will not work.

I have seen people in the position where he or she is the person with the knowledge but no authority to make or force changes.  That is an awful position, never hire or pointed someone to implement lean if you do not intend to give he or she the authority to make decisions and change things or you if do not plan to be there 100% of the time supporting the transformation, taking those decisions and changing things yourself.  People will think the change is optional when is not and even when this person is very passionate, know a lot about lean and has the skills to coach and facilitate changes; pretty soon the plant will go back to its old ways.  Without support, it is impossible to make this journey.


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.