Continuous Improvement Shouldn’t Stop for a Crisis

In any given year, New Year’s resolutions have long gone out the window by April. But this year, we at least have an excuse. 

 

You might have heard about this pandemic we are experiencing. 

 

Our gyms are closed, our refrigerators are full, and we have more streaming options than ever to keep us happily disengaged. So, unless you resolved to wash your hands until they were raw or become a recluse, there is a good chance you are failing. 

 

But COVID-19 hasn’t only impacted our homes and our waistlines; it has made an even more significant impact on our workplaces and how we complete our tasks. Some are now working from home, while manufacturing lines that have been deemed essential have been updated to incorporate additional safety precautions, including increased separation between workers. 

 

Just staying operational can be a struggle with a reduced workforce and increased regulations. So, it is easy to use excuses to explain why we’ve strayed from our commitment to continuous improvement. But even in a crisis, those are just excuses. Continuous improvement must be continuous – even in times of trial. Now is a great time to examine your processes, review your needs, and implement more lean strategies. 

 

Take a Gemba walk to determine what challenges you are facing and determine what you can fix. Eliminate unnecessary processes or process waste that doesn’t add value to the customer. And it is as important as ever, as teams adjust to their new normal, to communicate plainly and make each department’s plan clear and visible.

 

Every crisis can be an opportunity in disguise. (If that isn’t already on a poster with a kitten stuck in a tree, it should be.) Crises can provide a perspective that you didn’t previously have and the motivation you need to make changes to improve your processes. Good management includes optimizing the current situation: What can you do now that you couldn’t before? What doors does this open? How could you be better prepared if this happened again?

 

So, stop with the excuses and get lean.  

Looking for Lean Opportunities? Take a (Gemba) Walk

While we don’t tend to call them resolutions at work, the start of the year is a good time to set goals and implement strategies to get there. And just like at home, 2020 has many of us thinking of ways to be more lean.

For some, trying to determine a lean project to embark upon can be a cumbersome task and it can be difficult to know where or how to start. However, simply by applying the Go and See principle by incorporating a gemba walk in your daily routine can help identify lean opportunities in no time!

The process is simple. Go to the work environment where the work is being done (the gemba), observe the process first hand, and ask process owners open ended questions regarding the work they are performing to gain better insight as to how things are flowing, what obstacles may exist, etc. Below are a list of questions that can aid you on your future gemba walk as you interview process owners:

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. Is there an established process for completing the task?
  3. What challenges are you facing?
  4. How do you identify a challenge?
  5. What can you fix on your own?
  6. What do you need help with fixing?
  7. Who do you talk to when something goes wrong?
  8. Do you use a visual management board?
  9. If yes, is it useful and how does it help?
  10. If no, why don’t you use one?

After compiling answers to these questions, you can quickly decipher between value-add vs. non-value-add activities and determine a game plan to better (or eliminate) the process, keeping in mind both internal and external customers.

Keeping the gemba walk part of your daily routine makes you visible to the team, creates open dialogue, and provides feedback, suggestions, and ideas — all of which can be used to continually better the process. Plus, the process owners see their input transferred into actions and results, helping instill a never ending lean culture.

So, make the gemba walk part of your New Year’s resolution and never stop improving!

Gemba

The goal is to reduce waste. Why, then, are we adding waste?

Becoming LEAN continues to be a popular topic for most companies, and the goal is simple; focus on value-add activities and eliminate waste. Value-add activities are processes that support what the customer is willing to pay for, also known as your product or service. Waste is anything that gets in the way of this. When you really think about it, a business is nothing more than a string of processes, and if a process exists, there is a cost to that process. Period. Therefore, the ultimate goal should be to eliminate any process, or reduce the process waste, that does not add value to the customer.

Think of ordering a product from Amazon. As an Amazon Prime member, you order the product and like black magic, your product is magically delivered two days later. But it isn’t magic. The path to achieving guaranteed 2-Day delivery from Amazon didn’t happen overnight. Their process was examined, value-add activities maximized, wastes eliminated, and the customer is positively and directly affected by these actions. We should look at our processes and take the same approach.

If the rule of 80/20 applies (which it always does), this means 80% of your daily work is non-value add. Let’s think about that. Is the customer paying you to read this blog on company time? Is the customer paying you to update that special KPI that doesn’t affect them?

What would happen if you instead focused your efforts directly on what directly impacts the customer, which essentially boils down to our products and lead time? What if you question yourself every day about every task, “Is the customer going to benefit from this change?”

Again, 80% of the time, the customer does not benefit, so why are we continually adding waste and how do we stop? The answer is simple. Stop contributing to non-value-add tasks. Literally, stop! And if you can’t stop, then challenge yourself to reduce the total amount of non value-add tasks (ie. waste) from your process. Reduce the DOWNTIME on every project.

D – Defects. The goal is to eliminate defects and create a disturbance-free or defect-free environment.

O – Over Production. Don’t produce more than the customer requires. Think of a professional football game and all of the food being made to serve fans. Now think about the end of the game and how much food was leftover (i.e. over produced). If 1pc flow was implemented, over producing is kept in check.

W – Waiting. Imagine driving 10 hours to your destination, only to be stuck waiting in traffic for an additional 4 hours. What a waste!

N – Non-Utilized Talent. As a manager or supervisor, it is your duty and privilege to coach employees and tap into your teammates’ talent. Find their passion, coach them to follow their passion, and help them reach their goals. The world needs more do-ers and people executing their abilities to their fullest potential. Talent that is not tapped into is undoubtedly a waste.

T – Transportation. Analyze distance traveled, count how many steps from point A to point B and create a spaghetti diagram to map out the back and forth of a process. Reduce and eliminate accordingly.

I –  Inventory: Inventory gets lost, stolen, breaks, is outdated, etc. Getting to JIT (Just in Time) is the ultimate goal. This means your inventory arrives “just in time” when it is needed by the customer instead of sitting on a shelf.

M – Motion: An Olympic sprinter has perfect form. Any wasted motion does not add value to help him/her win the race. Reduce and eliminate unnecessary motion, twisting, turning, etc.

E – Excessive Processing: Reduce the total touches a product or item is handled, read, etc. Avoid rework!

Now that you are equipped to identify waste in your process, I challenge you to be a change agent in your department to focus on what the customer pays for and reduce or eliminate the tasks the customer does not pay for. It’s difficult and it’s trying, but it’s worth it!