Continuous Improvement, Lean Tools

Quality at the Source

I have seen it multiple times, there are problems in the production floor; a situation that happen very often and everybody is looking for a solution.  Very recently during a routine cycle count somebody read the label very carefully and realize the label did not match the product.  After verification of the product we found that the last three times we packed that product the wrong description was used on the label.  How it is possible that during four different production days the product had wrong information on the label and nobody picked up the problem.

Maybe we need to add an inspection point to verify the label, wait; we have quality inspectors coming once every hour to inspect some information of the label, not all of it.  Do we need more inspection? The question is, can the same person who changes the coder information, inspect the label right after choosing the new code?

Quality at the Source is a concept or tool where product quality is measured or inspected every step of the process.  If the operator of every step treats the next step operator as his/her customer, then they aim to deliver the customer the product they need, with the quality and quantity desired on time.  The use of specialized tools or technology help the operator to accomplish the quality expectations.  We can combine quality at the source with the use of Poka-yoke or “mistake-proofing” devices.

With employees participation the process of selecting the best process to ensure quality will be a good first step towards a problem solving and continuous improvement mentality.  After selection of the right process, training to all affected employees on who, when, where, what and how to perform the inspection is the second step.  Then we go to the plan execution and the subsequent analysis to determine if additional changes are necessary.  If no changes are necessary then the new process becomes the standard and quality at the source has been implemented.



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.

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.

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.