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.

 

 

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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 on a new job?  During the interview process you advertise all your skills and experience and now is time to show it.  As 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.

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 it to meet the key people.  Start with your own department and continue with all the others.  If you are in a new industry, like I was; 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 with their time. listen carefully, learn from their experiences.  Let them explain you those things they are proud of, make questions, engage on the conversation and ask for advice.  How you can you help them?  What they think should be your top priorities? Identify the people who is willing and able to help you, those with more experience who can me like a mentor for you.

How much time you spend to go thorough 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 with 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 to work letting your experience be an asset but not a road block to your learning process.

 

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.

Workplace

Why diversity is necessary?

cats-and-dogsDuring these days diversity in our work areas is more relevant than ever.  The entire nation is talking about diversity, some believe that is what make this nation great, and others think different.

One of the first courses for my master degree was organizational leadership.  To pass the class, we had to analyze a merge from the company’s culture point of view.  I chose the merge between two technology companies.  I started by reading everything I got about the buying company culture, and it was pretty clear that they belief in a diverse workforce.  They believe that their competitive advantage is achieved through their people and that they drive innovation through diversity.  Those statements were the first time I recognized there is something called diversity.

Many times after that I read about the advantages of having people from different backgrounds, race, nationality or gender together, like for example in this article from McKinsey & Company, Catalyst.org and  Industry Week.  If we only associate with people with our same believes and point of view, we will never grow, we will never learn.  We all need the exposition to different ideas.  We need to force ourself to listen to ideas coming from people from another country, from a different political party or maybe just with a different neighborhood.  Some of those ideas or points of view may teach us something, may help us to see the world through a different color glass.

In our work areas it is particularly important to have people with different beliefs, different gender, a cross-cultural team that stop the group from falling prey of alike thinking.  No diversity means seeing the world from one color glass only, always the same think, no variety.  The group will never try to break the status quo because nobody see the necessity to do it, condemn to repeat the same mistakes over and over because nobody think different.

During my lean journey, the best ideas almost always come from the most unlikely person, the one that does not know “anything” about the process, the one exposed to a different environment, or  with a work experience on a different industry.  Perhaps come from the most quiet person, that one that does not like to talk or feel fear to do so.

During brainstorming sessions it is common to see the think alike group trying to shut people with completely different ideas.  They will go nuts to hear the “crazy” proposition, they won’t let the person talk.  We have to develop a thicker skin, learn to listen even when we don’t like or agree.  Every idea needs to be discussed for its own merits, with facts not emotions.

Our companies, neighborhoods and countries are better and stronger when we embrace diversity and tolerance,.  Not accepting it, is like walking with a blindfold, we will miss half of the great things we have around.