When starting your Lean Journey, you’ve got to start somewhere, but where? When will you have time to do all of that extra stuff ? You already have your daily responsibilities to take care of, and quite frankly, you barely have time to get them done, much less anything extra! So it kind of feels like a case of needing a chicken or an egg to get started. This means it’s critical that you use your precious resources (time, people, money, etc.) as wisely as possible. The best thing you can do is to make enough of an impact to create momentum and opportunity to keep advancing. Ideally, the return on your investment will create more time and resources to reinvest over and over. As improvements take hold, you will have more time, because you will be eliminating problems, rather than responding to them.
I’m going to explain to you some of the strategy that I like to start with and why.
First, make sure your KPI’s are right and make them the beginning of your “visual factory”. This is why: in order to improve, you need to solve problems. In order to solve problems, you need to understand what your problems are. Problems are the barriers between where you are and where you want to be. It makes sense that you need to start with the visibility of where you are, where you need to go and what’s stopping you from getting there. So make sure you determine your Key Performance Metrics (KPI’s) correctly. Many places follow something similar to SQDCM (Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost and Morale). These KPI’s should also be displayed visually in the area where the work that impacts the metric is done. Make sure that everyone knows your intentions. KPI’s are not something that only a few select people in a company are aware of. Company goals are for everyone in the company to contribute to. This may mean that you will need to create sub-metrics that feed into the top company metric (this will be a future topic all on its own.)
Once you know what you’re KPI’s are, develop a system to track your actual performance in relationship to the KPI targets. Shoot for the shortest time frame possible. A metric that is tracked daily or better yet, hourly, is far more effective than a metric that is tracked monthly or quarterly. Since these metrics are going to be displayed in the workplace, it will be easier to relate the cause to the effect. And don’t forget, make sure they are displayed.
Now, you can start to narrow down your problems. This is best done by using data that’s available. Now, we all know that data is only useful if it’s accurate, so it’s a good idea to verify it. Another useful method is to brainstorm with people that are close to the issue. In some cases, it might be beneficial to have data, but you don’t. Don’t be afraid to collect it, even if it’s for a short period of time and it causes a little extra work. It’s well worth it to make sure you are doing the right thing.
When you are trying to figure out the causes of your problem, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. After all, if the cause was obvious, you (or somebody) would have done something about it by now. You have to think that the solution can only be seen from a vantage point that hasn’t been considered before.
Now you are ready to start implementing countermeasures for your root cause (see these articles on PDCA, 5Why and Root Cause Problem Solving). Don’t just randomly start doing things. Good problem solving is done in a structured and precise manner. Exercise good judgment at this point. Remember the pareto principle: 80% of the effect is in the top 20% of the causes. I recommend using a pareto chart to identify your top problems and then a trend chart to analyze the frequency and time relevance. Trend charts also are also great when you get to the “Check” stage of Plan, Do, Check, Act.
The more you make this whole process visual on the production floor, the better it will work. Bigger is better! There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, it’s almost guaranteed to spark interest from everyone on the floor. This can be invaluable, so take advantage of any attention that it draws. Another reason that I encourage to keep it visible is because I always find that when I walk through a company for the first time, if I can see what their problems and activities are, they are actually a problem solving company. However, when I go into a company and I can’t see their problems, I eventually find out that they don’t know what they are either, so they are not solving problems. Visual is better, so everyone can understand, participate and stay engaged.
Everybody and every company has a different environment and different issues. For this reason, I can’t tell you exactly what to do, but I can assure you that you can’t just sit there and wait for a chicken to lay an egg, or for an egg to appear and hatch a chicken, you need to create the opportunity by:
- Utilizing your resources wisely
- Identify how to measure if you are successful
- Set your targets
- Do gap analysis
- Determine Root Cause for top problems and implement Countermeasures using PDCA methodology
- Don’t forget to keep it all visible!