Tag: Lean Manufacturing

The Point of No Return

The “Point of No Return” is a common expression that typically means you’ve reached an unrecoverable state if you continue to proceed with the current course of action.  When I clicked the “Publish” button for this post, I reached a point of no return (action).

From an accounting perspective, the term “Break Even” point is used to define the point where Total Costs equal Total Revenue.  The break even point translates to the quantity of parts that must be produced and sold to turn a profit.  Stock exchanges around the world serve as a constant reminder that investors are only concerned with PROFIT and return on investment (PROFIT).  In this context, a point of no return (profit) also exists.

Businesses exist for the customer or consumer.  Poor quality, missed delivery dates, short shipments, warranty returns, and poor customer service all lead to higher costs and may eventually cause customers to reach their “point of no return”.  Customers understand that the lowest price is not always the lowest cost option in the long run.  Business depends on repeat customers.

What’s the point?

In the simplest of terms, our actions must yield a return that is greater than the investment required to achieve it.  Delivering VALUE to the customer is one of the underlying principles of lean thinking and is measured by our ability to provide the highest quality products and services at the lowest possible cost, on time, delivered on time and in full.

This all sounds great on the surface but there will come a time where the cost to improve your systems and / or processes will exceed the return on investment – another point of no return.  Alternative, lower cost, solutions must be found to meet your continuous improvement objectives.

Where a significant capital investment is required, your company may require a payback period of one or two years.  A capital investment for a program that is soon to become obsolete is not a feasible option.  The point of no return (investment) is reached before any funding can even be considered.

The Bottom Line

Understandably, the team will become extremely frustrated when the very solution they proposed is rejected or declined.  While they may not doubt their own ability to provide viable solutions, they will doubt the company’s commitment to pursue excellence and continually improve.

For this reason, it is essential for the team to understand the reasons why.  It also underscores the need to identify and respond to improvement opportunities quickly and as early as possible during the launch cycle of any new system, process, or product.

Embrace Rejection

Rejection can sometimes be a gift.  As I have stated many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.”  Could it be that sometimes bad things happen for a good reason?

Rejection provides (forces) us with the opportunity to consider the present circumstances from a fresh perspective.  If the premise for the proposed solution was to “fix” the current system or process as it’s is now defined, perhaps a radically different and innovative system or process could better serve the company in the long term.

Is it possible that a new and lower cost alternative exists that could be at least as effective and perhaps even more efficient?  There are numerous examples of systems, processes, and technologies that exist today that were discovered by removing the limits that we unconsciously place on the scope of the problem that in turn limit the solutions we are able to develop.

The real problem with problem solving is the idea that the only solution is a “fix” to a system or process that is already be flawed from the onset.

Be Inspired

TED Talks are rife with examples of problem solving that yield radical and in some cases simple solutions.  The following TED Talks may serve to inspire you and your organization to look at problems and their solutions from a different perspective:

These TED Talks present problems on a different scope and scale than we may be accustomed to, however, the very discussion of alternatives alone should serve to inspire radical thinking that in turn inspires radical change.

You may have noticed from these TED Talks that some of the solutions presented were found outside of the context or circumstances from which the problem originated.  Is it possible that a “surrogate” solution exists elsewhere?

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

The point of no return is significant and literally requires “out of the box” thinking.  Many companies no longer grace our communities or employ our neighbours, losing business and opportunities for growth to lower cost manufacturers and distributors to continually emerging global economy.  The difference could very well be how we embrace the point of no return.

Consider that Toyota, as a new company to the North American automotive market, implemented innovative supply chain,  inventory management, and production techniques to remain competitive.  Radical change and innovation does not imply higher cost or investment.  At best it should simply imply “different”.

Other companies like Apple and GE managed to change their futures under the leadership of Steve Jobs and Jack Welch respectively.  Was it always pretty? Likely not from the books I’ve read.  However, the outcomes are undeniable.

The courage of Steve Jobs to solicit support from Microsoft’s Bill Gates was an extremely radical decision at the time.  This video, “Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Microsoft – It’s Complicated“, clearly demonstrates the challenges faced in the relationship between Apple and Microsoft.  As for GE, I highly recommend reading “Straight From the Gut” by Jack Welch to best understand the radical changes in business and company culture during his tenure there.

Asking the right questions, open minds, radical thinking, and strong leadership coupled with a commitment to pursue excellence, continually improve, and solve problems may help everyone realize that the point of no return can be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive.

To quote Albert Einstein, “A clever person solves a problem.  A wise person avoids it.” and so we … “look before we leap.”

Your feedback matters

If you have any comments, questions, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to leave your comment in the space below or email us at feedback@leanexecution.ca or feedback@versalytics.com.  We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for visiting.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Versalytics Analytics
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Method Matters and OEE

English: This figure demonstrates the central ...
English: This figure demonstrates the central limit theorem. It illustrates that increasing sample sizes result in sample means which are more closely distributed about the population mean. It also compares the observed distributions with the distributions that would be expected for a normalized Gaussian distribution, and shows the reduced chi-squared values that quantify the goodness of the fit (the fit is good if the reduced chi-squared value is less than or approximately equal to one). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tricks of the Trade

 

Work smarter not harder! If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that sometimes we have a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be. A statistics guru once asked me why a sample size of five (5) is commonly used when plotting X-Bar / Range charts. I didn’t really know the answer but assumed that there had to be a “statistically” valid reason for it. Do you know why?

 

Before calculators were common place, sample sizes of five (5) made it easier to calculate the average (X-Bar). Add the numbers together, double it, then move the decimal over one position to the left.  All of this could be done on a simple piece of paper, using some very basic math skills, making it possible for almost anyone to chart efficiently and effectively.

 

  1. Sample Measurements:
    1. 2.5
    2. 2.7
    3. 3.1
    4. 3.2
    5. 1.8
  2. Add them together:
    • 2.5+2.7+3.1+3.2+1.8 = 13.3
  3. Double the result:
    • 13.3 + 13.3 = 26.6
  4. Move the decimal one position to the left:
    • 2.66

To calculate the range of the sample size, we subtract the smallest value (1.8) from the largest value (3.2). Using the values in our example above, the range is 3.2 – 1.8 = 1.4.

 

The point of this example is not to teach you how to calculate Average and Range values. Rather, the example demonstrates that a simple method can make a relatively complex task easier to perform.

 

Speed of Execution

 

We’ve written extensively on the topic of Lean and Overall Equipment Effectiveness or OEE as means to improve asset utilization. However, the application of Lean thinking and OEE doesn’t have stop at the production floor.  Can the pursuit of excellence and effective asset utilization be applied to the front office too?

 

Today’s computers operate at different speeds depending on the manufacturer and installed chip set. Unfortunately, faster computers can make sloppy programming appear less so. In this regard, I’m always more than a little concerned with custom software solutions.

 

We recently worked on an assignment that required us to create unique combinations of numbers. We used a “mask” that is doubled after each iteration of the loop to determine whether a bit is set. This simple programming loop requiring this is also the kernel or core code of the application.  All computers work with bits and bytes.  One byte of data has 8 bit positions (0-7) and represents numeric values as follows:

 

  • 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 =   0
  • 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 =   1
  • 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 =   2
  • 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 =   4
  • 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 =   8
  • 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 =  16
  • 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 =  32
  • 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 =  64
  • 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 128

To determine whether a single bit is set, our objective is to test it as we generate the numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and so on – each representing a unique bit position in binary form . Since this setting and testing of bits is part of our core code, we need a method that can double a number very quickly:

 

  • Multiplication:  Multiply by Two, where x = x * 2
  • Addition:  Add the Number to Itself, where x = x + x

These seem like simple options, however, in computer terms, multiplying is slower than addition, and SHIFTing is faster than addition.  You may notice that every time we double a number, we’re simply shifting our single “1” bit to the left one position.  Most computers have a built in SHL instruction in the native machine code that is designed to do just that.  In this case, the speed of execution of our program will depend the language we choose and how close to the metal it allows us to get.  Not all languages provide for “bit” manipulation.  For this specific application, a compiled native assembly code routine would provide the fastest execution time.  Testing whether a bit is set can also be performed more efficiently using native assembly code.

 

Method Matters

 

The above examples demonstrate that different methods can be used to yield the same result.  Clearly, the cycle times will be different for each of the methods that we deploy as well.  This discussion matters from an Overall Equipment Effectiveness, OEE, perspective as well.  Just as companies focus on reducing setup time and eliminating quality problems, many also focus on improving cycle times.

 

Where operations are labour intensive, simply adding an extra person or more to the line may improve the cycle time.  Unless we change the cycle time in our process standard, the Performance Factor for OEE may exceed 100%.  If we use the ideal cycle time determined for our revised “method”, it is possible that the Performance Factor remains unchanged.

 

Last Words

 

The latter example demonstrates once again why OEE cannot be used in isolation.  Although an improvement to cycle time will create capacity, OEE results based on the new cycle time for a given process may not necessarily change.  Total Equpiment Effectiveness Performance (TEEP) will actually decrease as available capacity increases.

 

When we’re looking at OEE data in isolation, we may not necessarily the “improved” performance we were looking for – at least not in the form we expected to see it.  It is just as important to understand the process behind the “data” to engage in a meaningful discussion on OEE.

 

Your feedback matters

 

If you have any comments, questions, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to leave your comment in the space below or email us at feedback@leanexecution.ca or feedback@versalytics.com.  We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for visiting.

 

Until Next Time – STAY lean

 

 

 

Versalytics Analytics

 

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

English: John leading Lean and Mean
English: John leading Lean and Mean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since we started blogging here on WordPress! We would like to thank our many subscribers and visitors for your many e-mails and comments, making this a fulfilling learning experience for all of us.

This blog was originally founded on the premise that very little information was available on the topic of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) with the exception of the most basic formula and it’s application for single machine operations. We advanced the application of OEE over numerous posts to include multiple machines, parts, shifts, divisions, and even corporate level reporting. We have also maintained that the intent of OEE is to serve as a tool to drive continuous improvements in your operations.

When integrated correctly, OEE provides feedback to operations management that enables further improvements to occur. From this perspective, leadership that empowers employees to implement improvements is a pre-requisite for manufacturing operations wanting to gain the most from their OEE initiative. In this regard, leadership recognizes and embraces lean thinking and instills lean principles throughout the organization. Where lean serves as the overarching strategy, OEE is an integral key performance indicator (KPI) that enables continuous improvements to occur.

We recognized that our initial offerings would serve and be of interest to a niche audience, however, after four years it is exciting to see that we have received more than 100,000 visitors from over 150 countries. The top 10 countries driving visits to our site – to date – are:

Country  Rank
United States FlagUnited States      1
India FlagIndia      2
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom      3
Canada FlagCanada      4
Malaysia FlagMalaysia      5
Australia FlagAustralia      6
Germany FlagGermany      7
Philippines FlagPhilippines      8
Mexico FlagMexico      9
Brazil FlagBrazil     10

We are thankful for the feedback we have received and for the many people who have taken the time to express their thoughts and share their gratitude either in the comments or by the many e-mails we have received from around the world. Social media have certainly played a role in expanding our scope and our reach. We look forward to continuing our journey with you.

“Our goal is to deliver the highest quality product or service in the shortest amount of time at competitive prices on time and in full.”

“There’s always a better way and more than one solution”

“What you see is how we think”

Thanks again for reading and, to our US friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Lean Leadership: The Missing Link?

The TOYOTA wayI coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization.  In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish.  Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.

So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves.  These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way:  14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.

So where do we turn?

Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world.  This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.

I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.

A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere.  Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.

In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis.  As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”

As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.

Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed.  Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.

Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly.  “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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Sustainability or Meltdown?

Created in Photoshop, based on "Sustainab...
Image via Wikipedia

For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.

The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered.  How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.

I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.  I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.

Sustainability requires us to continually and rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment.  In this context I again find myself turning to the wisdom of Toyota.  “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence To Achieve Superior Performance” by Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz is one such resource that is the most recent addition to my library of recommended lean reading and learning.

The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable.  Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.

We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide.  As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward.  We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.

Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality.  Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Sharp Minds – On the Cutting Edge or the Cutting Board?

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
Image via Wikipedia

I continue to be frustrated by the notion that the only way to reduce spending is by cutting services.  While the demand for change is high, few are willing to challenge tradition and conventional thinking to improve services and increase efficiencies that will enable us to do more with less, find new opportunities, and to create jobs instead of eliminating them.

On a global level, governments continue to grapple with increasing economic pressures brought on by the recession. Rather than demonstrating fiscal restraint however, governments have grown and spending has increased at rates that far exceed that of the public sector. The result is an unsustainable government and services that will either be cut or funded through newly created revenue streams.

Rather than challenging the infrastructure and systems that comprise the delivery of these services, the governments scramble to find new ways to reach further into our pockets to pay for inefficiencies, high paid union labour, and questionable entitlements.  In some instances, services have been abandoned only to be properly managed by the private sector.

For example, when we consider the delivery of health care in Canada, we find a system plagued by excessive wait times and ever rising costs.  Doctors and specialists continue to operate as a fragmented community of service providers, adding layers of bureaucracy, greater inefficiencies, and more cost.

These inefficiencies are further evidenced by patients who are sent into a frenzied schedule of appointments and tests in various locations without regard for the many inconveniences and disruptions they may incur in their personal lives.

On the other hand, emergency rooms do not present the same constraints and, though some waiting may be required, patients are examined and assessed immediately, a prognosis is determined, priorities are established, and resources are made available on demand as required.

Expedience does not jeopardize the level of care provided.  While the emergency room may not present the ideal case, it is radically different from “standard” care.

In stark contrast to the government-political processes that continue to insult our intelligence, I am always encouraged by the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of individuals who prove that there is always a better way and more than one solution:

Where do we start?

The quicker we realize that truly radical changes are necessary, the sooner we can abandon traditional cost cutting practices and apply Lean Thinking to improve society as we know it, not cut it to shreds.  My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.

As every lean practitioner will tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Unfortunately, many governments and companies alike start by falsely assuming that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

In this same context, consider how our desire to “travel from Point A to Point B in the shortest time” has evolved and transformed our personal modes of transportation / communication into the following “value” propositions:

  • Personal:  Crawl > Walk > Run > Tricycle > Bicycle
  • Roadways:  Bicycle, Motorcycles, Cars, Buses
  • Railways:  Passenger and Freight Trains
  • Seaways:  Boats, Ships
  • Airways:  Helicopters, Planes, Jets, Rockets
  • Telephone:  Phones, Faxes, Internet (email, social media)

Each mode of transportation presents a unique solution to address a shared common value:  “Short Travel Time”.  Although changing technologies is inferred, lean does not require an investment in new technologies to be successful.  To the contrary, Lean Thinking simply challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Only when we focus on “value” from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customer’s needs.  When we consider the premise for this example, the need to travel is implied.  It does not answer the question “Why do we travel?

If the reason for traveling is simply to “communicate” with friends and family, then we can see that the telephone becomes a viable solution to eliminate the need to travel at all.  From a similar perspective, fax machines and the internet were created to expedite data transfers and to communicate with the world in real-time.

The Challenge is On

It is time for all levels of government, business, unions, and society as a whole to acknowledge that our economy is in a state of crisis and demands real action. Real people are hurting at a time when others are pursuing their own agendas for self-preservation – all at the expense of society.  We can not simply assume that everything is “just fine – only more expensive”.

Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  In this regard, the same challenges exist for governments and businesses alike to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value to the people they serve at prices we can all afford.

The Globe And Mail featured an article titled “ What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally – Globe And Mail” href=”http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/manufacturing/what-ottawa-can-do-to-help-manufacturers-excel-globally/article2060854/” target=”_blank”>What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally” that cites feedback for improvements from manufacturers and businesses in various industries. Unemployment in the United States is hovering at 9% and, as this video “Focus On Jobs or Spending Cuts” demonstrates, the challenge to deliver new jobs is also in jeopardy.

Unless government spending is brought under control and services are delivered effectively and efficiently, the system is sure to implode.  It’s time for an extreme make over, engaging the best and sharpest minds to bring us to the cutting edge in business and technology, not to the cutting board where nothing remains but shattered hopes and dreams.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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Lean Thinking for Change – Is this Kaizen?

A diagram to show the two PDCA cycles. The fir...
Image via Wikipedia

Every lean organization recognizes the need for – and significance of – practicing Kaizen or continuous improvement.  That Kaizen is integral to any lean initiative is clearly evidenced by the numerous references, discussions, and success stories in two highly recommended and revered books:  “Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation” by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones and “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.

In this context, it’s not surprising when I hear managers say “We don’t do enough Kaizen here”, and is further accompanied by a sense of guilt that knowingly suggests they can’t be lean without it.  When I ask them to clarify their statement, they often refer to their latest week-long Kaizen event that actually seemed more like an extended exercise in 5S.

In other more extreme cases, the value stream changes were so radical that they were actually practicing Kaikaku or radical improvement.  Quite literally, the changes involved re-arranging machines and re-processing operations to improve flow and reduce inventories.

Over the course of my career, I have led several successful major plant transformations and turn-around efforts.  Practicing Kaikaku is almost assured when, at some point, the discussion turns to “Pretend there is nothing in your plant” or, “If you could start from scratch”, “What would it look like?”

Although Kaizen is not intended to be as radical, I constantly hear the same concern from both small and medium-sized companies, “We simply don’t have the time or the resources to devote to a week-long workshop.”  I always follow with, “Who said we need a week?

The problem with either of the scenarios above is that they have the tendency to be one time events by design.  If, by definition, Kaizen is continual improvement, then “one time” events are clearly an exceptional form of the practice. Let’s take a few minutes to understand what Kaizen is.”

What is Kaizen?

The perception of Kaizen in the leadership and management ranks is based on a common misunderstanding of what Kaizen really is and, with so much information available on the topic, perhaps for good reason.

Many books have been written on the topic of lean and each presents their definition of Kaizen in kind.  For example, “Lean for Dummies“, by Natalie J. Sayers and Bruce Williams, devotes an entire chapter to “Flowing in the Right Direction: Lean Projects and Kaizen”, and suggests:

… Kaizen is the how. Kaizen is the way you improve the value stream; it’s practiced through a continuing series of workshops and projects.

Further reading continues to expound on the definition of Kaizen, the rules for engagement, project selection, project methodology, as well as planning and conducting workshops.

As I reflect on my own experience, I recall a week-long process improvement initiative with one of Suzuki’s New Program Launch teams.  They referred to this initiative as “Kaizen” and encouraged us to learn and pursue other process improvements using a similar strategy:

The objective of Kaizen is to continually improve, to pursue perfection with a focus on value added activities and the relentless elimination of waste.

The team consisted of personnel from a number of different departments and their entire time was to be devoted to this aggressive and rigorous process review and improvement  activity.  Personally, the experience was exhausting and the gains achieved certainly warranted the level of engagement demanded.

We were subsequently introduced to “Kaizen Blitzes” that were somehow less intense than a full workshop but seemed to be a more palatable approach.

The perception and resources required for week-long workshops are among the few primary reasons why many companies find it difficult to support Kaizen.  Unfortunately, their only experience and exposure to Kaizen is often gained through these limited “workshop” or “blitz” experiences.

Indeed, entire books have been written on Kaizen alone that may be even more intimidating to the new and uninitiated lean practitioner.  I prefer the description of Kaizen as presented in “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey Liker and Timothy N. Ogden.

At Toyota, Kaizen isn’t a set of projects or special events. It’s the way people in the company think at the most fundamental level, harking back to Deming’s never-ending PDCA cycle.

Although this definition is broader in scope, it identifies the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) as the core premise of all continuous improvement initiatives and is consistent with the methodology purported by Mike Rother in his highly acclaimed book, “Toyota Kata” and also discussed in our post “Discover Toyota’s Best Practice” and referred by Wikipedia.

Two Types of Kaizen

Those of you who are familiar with Kaizen recognize that there are actually two types of Kaizen:  Maintenance Kaizen and Improvement Kaizen.

Improvement Kaizen is “raising the bar” to the next level – improving processes to achieve new standards and higher levels of performance.  The very nature of the improvement requires participation from multiple disciplines to discover and effect the changes necessary.

Maintenance Kaizen, as briefly described by Jeffrey Liker in “Toyota Under Fire“, is the reality of dealing with our daily unexpected crises (Murphy’s Law) – something most of us are exposed to in our workplaces and personal lives.

When we hear that employees at Toyota make daily improvements, it is likely in reference to Maintenance Kaizen and the Improvement Kata.   In this context, we are all likely practicing Maintenance Kaizen on a daily basis too.

A recent experience

I can appreciate that some businesses work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Of course supporting a business like that means you are operating on the same timeline.

Machine failures and quality concerns are all too common in manufacturing. To broaden the application and our thinking with regard to Kaizen specifically and Lean in general, this experience is based on a recent “IT” concern.

03:10 am – The client calls:  “We’ve got a problem with our e-mail. It just stopped working. We need to get this information out to our client before 7:00 am this morning.”

03:30 am – I arrive to find a file in the Outbox anxiously waiting to find its way onto the internet.  Any attempts made to free up space were denied, e-mails could not be deleted, archives couldn’t be executed.  Any attempts to do anything relevant produced the following message:

03:47 am – The internet connection was fully functional, so I recommend sending the files directly from their 3rd party e-mail.  This, by the way, was the contingency plan in the “unlikely” event of an internal server crash.

03:55 am – Files are sent and we begin looking for a solution to the problem at hand.

04:11 am – I find and run the program that should handle a scan and repair C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033.

04:51 am – The scan is complete and I’m greeted with “Errors were found in this file.  To repair these errors, click Repair.”

04:53 am – I click Details… and, as suspected, there were errors that prevented access to the file:

04:53 am – I return to the Repair screen and click repair.

05:11 am – A message appears on the screen and things suddenly got worse:

Fortunately, while the scan was running, we researched alternative data recovery options as well. We were forced to develop a solution, other than the one recommended by Microsoft, to successfully resolve the problem.

07:00 am – Problem resolved and the client is satisfied that all is well. Time to get ready for work!

Lessons Learned

The client was not performing regular archives resulting in a massive file at or near the limits of the software.  Backups were few and seldom performed.  The experience has now mandated the need for managed archiving and weekly backups.

How the file became corrupt is still a mystery. Although the risk of occurrence is unknown, just knowing that Microsoft developed a repair solution suggests that the event was at least expected to occur.

We conclude that the risk of recurrence is slim.  There is little that can be done to assure the integrity of data as this is controlled by the file management capabilities of the software and the operating system itself.

Is this Kaizen?

The crisis was very real, required an immediate solution, and Murphy’s law prevailed on more than one occasion.  Negligence regarding archives and backups was discovered and countermeasures were implemented accordingly.

It is very unlikely that we will be able to prevent a file from ever becoming corrupt, although appropriate countermeasures, such as backups, will at least minimize the risk.  Our initial third-party e-mail solution negated the potential loss of any data.

I recognize that improvement initiatives are typically premised on a known process state whereby the amount of improvement can be measured.  In the same context, a target condition that we aspire to achieve is also established.

Whether this was Kaizen is a matter of perspective. Whatever it is called, our mission is to maximize value for our customer by pursuing  perfection through the relentless elimination of waste.

Kaizen Protocol

I don’t intend to minimize the rigors of Kaizen by the simplicity of the experience shared above. However, I contend that practicing Kaizen is not restricted to the realm of workshops or special events considering that, at the most fundamental level, improvement initiatives or Kaizen follow iterative cycles of the “Plan > Do > Check > Act” methodology.

As we continue to learn from our past experiences, the necessity for full workshops at the process level are eventually displaced by “spontaneous” improvement and problem solving on a reduced scale and at the “local” level.

It is not that companies are neglecting to do Kaizen, it is the failure to recognize that Kaizen is not an event, special project, or a workshop.  Kaizen is the incremental improvements that we implement continually each and every day. Foregoing the formality of documenting every Kaizen activity does not negate the reality that it is being practiced.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

** A full Kaizen workshop requires substantial preparation and effort. Realizing this, some companies prefer to use simulations to teach Kaizen rather than risk disruptions to current processes or operations.

** Consultants bring a wealth of experience from a diverse range of businesses and industries. Consider hiring a consultant as a “resource on demand” to facilitate and practice Kaizen in your operation.

Twitter:  @Versalytics