Category Archives: CI Tools

It’s About Time & 5 Steps to Best Measure It

Our previous post shared several reasons as to why the measurement of time is an effective way to identify and eliminate waste.

This approach has consistently proven successful in our work, and some specific examples include:

  • A finance department used this method to reduce reporting cycle time by over 50% by identifying and eliminating the causes of rework.
  • An organization reduced setup times by measuring the time and addressing the causes of the non-value-adding delays.
  • A sales force measured their total time to value-adding time by identifying huge chunks of non-value adding time which they were able to convert to more sales calls.
  • A retirement community studied total housekeeping time relative to value adding time and reduced costs by over 30%.
  • A financial services company studied the total time versus value-adding time for processing time-sensitive transactions and succeeded in simultaneously eliminating both overtime and late

Once you’ve decided that managing time is an ideal way to reduce costs and increase customer (internal and external) satisfaction, you might try using the following five steps for effective measurement:

    1. Identify the process to study and improve: where it starts and where it ends.
    2. Confirm with the customer (internal or external) the key element of value the process yields. Sometimes this is obvious, but in some cases not so much. An accurate understanding of what the customer considers of real value is key to any improvement effort.
    3. Determine how long the process actually takes today. This number— in minutes, hours, days, or weeks, whichever is best suited to the process — is the TOTAL component of the ratio we will calculate in step 5. Some questions often arise at this step:
      • Should we collect “person hours” or elapsed time? Measure elapsed time. If you study and improve elapsed time, you increase customer satisfaction and quality as well as costs. Person hours spent on the work almost always decline when an organization focuses on elapsed time.
      • How precise do we need to be? It is valuable to get good data about the total time elapsed from start to finish, if only through a modest sample. Of course, there will be
        variation — and the variation can be quite substantial for some processes. Keep the raw data, and calculate the average TOTAL.
    4.  Determine which steps actually add value and how much time is spent on those. For a step to be considered to add value, it must:
      • Be directly related to what the customer values and would pay for (if they knew what we were doing)
      • Actually change something of value — the product, database, approval status, whatever, (inspecting something or moving something does not actually change the thing, so does not ‘add value’)
      • Do so for the first and only time. Fixing or reworking something does NOT add value, because it compensates for not being done completely or correctly the first time.
        Often these steps must be done today, because they compensate for an imperfection somewhere in the process. Correcting those imperfections is what will yield the improvements.

      What if we disagree about what is truly adding value? When categorizing work, aim to be as rigorous as possible about applying the criteria for value-added. If you mis-classify a non-value step as adding value, you will lose out on the opportunity to study and possibly eliminate all or part of it. But it is not a fatal mistake; you can always circle back. Once a group has eliminated a first round of waste, they are able to scrutinize what is left more rigorously and find a whole new round of opportunities that may well exceed the first round.

      How precise must we be about the amount of time the specific steps take? Knowledgeable approximations of the individual components that consume time are usually sufficient to
      produce really great improvements.

    5. Study the differences between the total time and the value adding time to identify and eliminate the root causes. Then calculate again. To calculate the ratio: if total time today is 55 hours and value adding time is 2 ½ hours, then the ratio would be either:
      • Total-to-Value: 55 divided by 2.5 = 22, which means that the organization spends 22
        hours for every 1 hour of value add, or
      • Value-To-Total: 2.5 divided by 55 = 4.5%, which means that 4.5% of total elapsed time
        is actually spent adding value.

      It doesn’t matter which you use, as long as you are consistent.



Are you familiar with the term “poka-yoke?”

If so, then you know that a poka-yoke is a specially-designed feature of a process or a product that either prevents common mistakes or
catches them before they cause trouble. Often referred to as “mistake-proofing,” The term comes from the Japanese, meaning “inadvertent error” and “avoidance” and was popularized by the engineer Shingeo Shingo in his crusade to improve quality by eliminating human errors.

We see and use poka-yokes every day. For example, years ago, a dead car battery due to forgetfulness was a common problem. Since then, a poka-yoke was designed to sound a warning bell if the car lights are left on. A “warning” poka-yoke is a big help, but not fool proof. A more powerful poka-yoke has since been built-into newer cars and turns the lights on and off automatically.

Similarly, you see a wire gate swing out of the front of a school bus to guide children safely across the street; you are asked to double-enter a new password to guard against typos; wires are color-coded; highways have rumble strips.

All of these are features of a product or process that were specially designed to reduce the likelihood of a particular human error.

Has your organization created or made effective use of poka-yokes?

If so, we look forward to hearing from you! If not, our next post will focus on how to go about creating poka-yokes.

The 2-Second Rule, and 2 Categories of Visual Management

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words!” Thus the value of visual management.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, it was suggested that to be effective, any attempt at visual management must enable an observer to grasp the situation within two-seconds.

An admirable goal, for sure!

As you are most likely aware, visual management can be a powerful communication tool if, as noted above, it lets people know quickly and effectively exactly the right thing to do in each situation by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

Because visual management highlights the critical information in ways that can’t be ignored, it enables a person to assess the status of the situation at a glance. Consequently, people can get far more done, more quickly, with fewer errors and without the need of additional instruction.

It is also important to recognize that there are two types of visual management tools:

  1. Tools that indicate quickly and reliably what actions to take and not to take in order to maintain process control
  2. Teamwork tools that communicate how a process is performing compared to an agreed upon standard or goal, so the people doing the work easily spot and implement the needed adjustments or improvements

We will take a closer look at each category of visual management in upcoming posts.

10 Key Charting Tools

Continuing our theme of using the “right” tool for the right job, there are some key tools one might use when involved in continuous improvement.

Ultimately, persistent problems cannot be solved by repeatedly using the same knowledge and insights; solutions require the innovative use of multiple problem-solving tools to examine current reality from a variety of different angles.

Here are 10 tools you might consider using:

    1. Pareto Chart

    Pareto Charts contain both bars and a line graph, where individual values are represented in descending order by bars. They are commonly used to explore ideas about possible causes.

  1. Process Mapping is a tool that enables people to spot and quantify the waste and trace it to the primary cause.
  2. Cause and Effect Diagramming is used to stretch beyond initial ideas about possible root causes.
  3. Histograms represent the distribution of numerical data, providing an estimate of the probability distribution of a continuous variable. They provide new insights into the dynamics of process performance.
    1. Run Chart

    Run Charts are line graphs of data plotted over time. They can be used to understand current process performance and distinguish between random variation and special causes.

  4. Scatter Diagrams are primarily used to clarify the importance of possible causal factors on results measurements.
  5. Affinity Diagrams are used to find breakthrough ideas and natural relationships among the data.
  6. Priority Matrices can be used to consider alternatives and identify the right things to work on.
  7. Interrelationship Digraphs provide visual demonstrations of the relationship among factors—causal factors (drivers) vs. symptoms so that you get the most leverage on interventions.
  8. A dependable method of analyzing the data as outlined in recent posts.