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.

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.

 

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.