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.

Value Stream Map

Is a Process Map the same as a Value Stream Map?

One question that I hear very often is what is, the difference between a value stream map and a process flow?  Are they the same?  It is easy to be confused, both are maps of the process, right?  Let’s establish what each map is:


Which one we should use depends on what we want to accomplish, do we want to work with a specific process or we want to visualize more than just the single-process level, see the flow?  Do not rush to complete either one of them, they deserve time; after all the continuous improvement process depends on how we define the baseline of the process or flow and the appropriate identification of the problems.  The more you use them, the easier will be to identify which one is right for each occasion.



Continuous Improvement, Visual Management

A tale of two envelops and Continuous Improvement

I was one of millions of people who watched the Oscars last Sunday.  I was getting ready to turn off the TV when I noticed some disturbance behind the man talking, people fast walking behind the celebrating group and then a man with a headset walking across the stage with a red envelope, looking for the envelope and the card just used to read the winner for the most important category of the night.  After that, there was chaos, confusion and surprise as it was informed that there was a mistake and the wrong movie was announced as winner. How that happened?  It was the first time in the 89 years of  the Academy Awards Ceremony.

Mr. Horowitz, a producer on that film spoke first and step aside to let speak Berger, another producer.  It was on that moment when people with headsets walk across the stage.  A man with a headset ask Horowitz to see the envelope he had on his hand and up to that point he haven’t read it.  They open the envelope, and it says “Emma Stone, “La La Land.”   That was the beginning of the end for La La Land as winner for best picture.

After all the dust settle, in a backstage interview after the ceremony Emma Stone indicated that she was holding her “best actress card the whole time.” It turns out that this was part of the problem: there are two sets of envelopes for each category — so while Stone walked off with one card, Beatty was handed the other.

Why two envelops?  For more than eighty years, PricewaterhouseCoopers has been in charge of the Oscars balloting process.  The only two people who know the results are the two balloting leaders, who in a very James Bond move; memorize the winners so there’s no list that could leak out early.  On Oscar night, each of the them station themselves on opposite sides of the stage throughout the ceremony and one of them hands the envelopes to the presenters, depending on which side of the stage the presenters enter from.

How we can improve this process?  I will start by asking, do we really needs two envelopes?  I bet there is a run down of for what side of the stage the presenters will enter from and based on that the balloting leaders would have to sort the envelopes between them.  If this is too complicated or risky, then another solution could be the use of a second briefcase or a box to drop the envelopes of already announced categories.

Then it comes to what we know as Quality at the Source.  I know, presenters are expecting to receive the right envelope, but we already see there are chances of mistake.  They can read the outside of the envelope which is labeled with the name of the category and double-check that they received the right

actree-in-leading-roleWhat about using visual management? We can see in these pictures that the font size for the category name on the envelope label and the card is not big enough.  Considering that the card content is what the presenter will read in front of millions of people, I would increase the font size for the category, at least to the same size of the winner’s name.  I would also move it to be on top of the winners name, so is the first thing the presenter will see.  Maybe we can highlight to ensure they see it, after all reading the category name will make not harm to the process.  After the investigation that PwC is doing, the most important part is what will be done to avoid these from happening in the future.  Hopefully, the root cause of the problem would be identified and after that the process will be revised and improved.

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.