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.

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, Waste

Lean is Fun!

Last week I was watching a video from Paul Akers, Lean Maniac, founder and president of FastCap LLC and author of 2 Second Lean. On that video he passionately described lean as simple and fun.  That description makes me smile.

During my personal lean journey I worked with different consultants and lean practitioners.  They all have one thing in common, regardless their experience and knowledge, in my opinion they complicated things too much.  I was thinking all the time that we should keep things simple.  People has different preferred ways to learn but most of us like to receive information on a simple way.  The simple the better to understand and learn.  When you understand things, you will see how useful they are and as you try and see that they work, you definitely has fun.

People don’t need to know the history behind lean, not thousands of examples of situations that are not familiar to them, not formulas or complicated programs.  All they need to know is the basics. The basics of lean are simple:  respect for people and continuous improvement.  By doing those two things we will eliminate waste, improve quality and by default improve customer satisfaction and reduce operational costs.

We show respect when we genuinely ask how we can help to make our employees tasks easier and work with them to eliminate the burden from their processes.  When they actively participate from the improvement process, having the chance to bring their point of view and implement their ideas, they go home feeling that they accomplish something,. By giving them the tools to apply continuous improvement on their areas we also give them the tools to have fun while they work, being creative, have some control of the process and learn things that may be used on their personal lives.


The Three M’s

One year right after the end of the first semester we received the visit of the CEO of our plant.  He  came to discuss with the plant management how we were doing against budget.  A huge part of the discussion was around the fact that our daily throughput was less than expected and for that reason the cost per case was higher than our goal.  The whole cost system was built around total number of cases produced regardless we need them or not.

The warehouse was full, there was no space for more finished goods.  Sales were slow so the total number of daily shipments to our customer was under average; but we were working overtime to produce enough cases to meet the cost per case target.  Instead of working to produce what our customers need or move ahead with new products or try to conquest new markets, we continue producing as per forecast because that is what “we need” to do to keep our cost per case in budget.

Being a lean manufacturing student who work on a company where the concept lean manufacturing only have meaning at plant level is not easy.  During that meeting, my heart was beating so fast that I thought that everybody could listen it.  My boss was looking at me, he knew that I was about to say something.  I take every chance I have to talk about lean with the hope that at least one person will learn something and he knows it.

Our production schedule is not even, we work overtime for months just to have a one week shutdown and then after a couple of weeks of regular production, we go back to overtime.  Unevenness in production that is not related to the customers needs is Mura.  Mura is another type of waste, just as Muri and Muda (the most common type – remember the seven wastes?).  Together they are known as the Three M’s.

Mura is the waste of unevenness or inconsistency and most of the time is the cause of many of the seven muda wastes.  When we are inconsistent in our schedule with a lot of peaks (overtime) and some valleys (shutdowns), we create so many problems using materials and creating goods that we don’t need that defeats the whole purpose of lean, attack muda.

The third type of waste, Muri is the waste of overburden.  Overburden means to give unnecessary stress to employees and processes.  When we decide to work overtime for months and months while the warehouse remains full we are causing stress to our employees who can see the warehouse full and can’t understand why we continue producing more.  We also stress the process, people and machines work too many hours; people get tired and machines don’t get the appropriate maintenance.  Both things leads to downtime and errors that create rejects and poor quality products and increase absenteeism rates.

While I was talking about this, the CEO was looking at me with genuine interest, he asked some questions and promised that we will talk more about this in the future.  To be honest, talking is not necessarily what I was looking for, but at least he listened and we all start to talk about using different types of indicators to measure the plant performance.

That day, we all realize that Mura and Muri are our real enemies, they are the cause of muda.  That day, we also accept the idea that traditional financial KPI maybe is not the best way to measure the plant performance.