Tag Archives: continuous improvement tools

Waste Walk Perspective

As noted in our previous post, gemba or waste walks are effective ways of identifying waste and opportunities for improvement. Generally speaking, efforts-to-date have primarily taken place in manufacturing, warehouse or shop-floor environments; and certainly there is much to be gained by “going to gemba” in these areas.

For example, during one waste walk n a manufacturing area, those involved focused on process constraints, and identified several bottlenecks and, ultimately, solutions that increased overall capacity; in another similar setting the gemba team was able to separate value added work from that which was non-value added, and then created data images to document the changes they believed would maximize the former and eliminate the latter.

Taking a slightly different twist, one manufacturer’s gemba team pre-selects a theme each month, such as safety or process inefficiencies, and during the walk they search for activities or process steps that impact the theme.

However, while waste walks are most often put into practice within the above mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have proven most worthwhile.

For example, a supply chain management company used waste walks as a way of solving a recurring order-processing problem that had become a hot issue with one of their mid-sized customer locations. They involved a number of their team members, including representatives from management, customer service and their CI group. It worked out so well that they now do waste walks at customer sites on a regular basis. Not only do the teams solve problems and make design changes in ways that benefit both parties, but their relationships with these customers have also grown significantly, which has boosted revenue and customer retention.

Based on the success of gemba or waste walks at customer locations, the company has recently started conducting them with suppliers, and anticipates similar positive results.

Other companies send their employees to observe how their customers use their products and to look for complexities, errors, of troubles that the products cause the customers. Having done that, the employees are able to go back to their own gemba and see more opportunities for Improvement.

In the retail sector, one company conducted a series of waste walks during their inventory season, watching and documenting the process at different stores. While some best-practices were certainly documented during the waste walks at the top performing sites, the greatest gains were made during waste walks at the stores in which performance was traditionally mediocre, where, as a result of the initiative, average cycle time was cut in half!

Even though waste walks are used less frequently in areas where the work is less visible, such as administrative offices, purchasing departments, and R&D labs, some of the greatest opportunities reside in these places. When the work is less visible, the gemba or waste walk team needs to ask many more questions of the people doing the work in order to learn what they are doing and to gain valuable insights.

Watching v. Visualizing

visual management

A concept that might be a distant relative to watching our work is visual management.

When one recognizes the power of Visual Management, words seem superfluous. It is a powerful communication tool that 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.

The benefits are significant! Faster response time, fewer mistakes, increased safety, higher productivity!

Visual Management has been effective in improving results in almost every organization. Among the benefits with specific examples are:

  • Speed of execution in a time-sensitive process
  • Reduced number of OSHA-reportable accidents
  • Fewer errors in production, materials management, maintenance, and office operations
  • Faster process analysis and improvements
  • Reduced inventory and fewer stock-outs
  • Higher productivity and throughput
  • Better team-work and more engaged employees

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.

Our next post will take a closer look at each type of visual management, and share specific examples as well as best practices.

Learn From the Work

Deming Cycle
The Deming Cycle

In an earlier post we pointed-out that the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of our own work and value stream — we must know it in detail.

Bill Conway often said, “All of the waste comes from the work…what we work on and how we do that work. To improve it, we need to get closer to the work.”

This means we must know how long it takes, where it piles up, and how well it is synchronized with the needs of the customers.

A simple but proven way to learn more about the work is a Waste Walk or by “going to gemba.”

As you may know, “Genba,” which has been popularized as “Gemba,” is a Japanese word meaning “the real place.” The word is widely used in Japan, where detectives frequently refer to a crime scene as genba, and Japanese TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting from genba/gemba. In the business realm, gemba refers to the place where work is done and value created; in manufacturing the gemba is typically the factory floor, but looking further afield it can be any location — a construction site, administrative office, or sales bullpen — where the actual work is being done.

When it comes to Continuous Improvement (CI), problems are most visible in these areas, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to gemba. There is no substitute for ‘going to the work’ and there are things that can only be learned by going there and watching the work with a purpose. Thus a gemba walk, or Waste Walk, is an activity that takes management and other stakeholders to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities for improvement; to observe the work where the work is being done, and to identify what goes wrong or could go wrong, how often it does or could go wrong, and the associated consequences. It fits nicely into the “Deming Cycle” shown above, as it is a method of “checking” our work.

The Waste Walk is designed to help everyone understand the value stream and its problems; it is not to review results and make superficial comments. Gathering input from the people closest to the work is an important element of making improvements as well. After all, they are the ones that know the most about the work!

Unfortunately, and as noted in the above-referenced past post, in most organizations there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Including their input in a waste walk can help remedy this problem.

Our next post will focus on best practices for executing an effective waste walk.

All About Flow Charts

Sample Flow Chart

A simple yet extremely useful improvement tool, a flowchart is a type of diagram that represents a workflow or process. As a graphic depiction or visual map, a flowchart can represent a process with greater clarity than text descriptions alone, thus enabling people to more easily view and follow the “steps.” Consequently, they are very useful when communicating with users or managers about policies, rules, and unnecessary, duplicitous or cumbersome steps within a work process, and help to quickly highlight problems or opportunities for improvement.

When creating a flowchart, process steps are shown as shapes of various kinds, and their order by connecting the shapes with arrows or lines. Different shapes are used to indicate actions, decision points, recycle loops, work and wait times.

Among the most commonly-used shapes are the following:

Common Flow Chart Symbols

Originally, flowcharts were created by hand using pencil and paper. Before the advent of the personal computer, drawing templates made of plastic flowchart shape outlines helped flowchart makers work more quickly and gave their diagrams a more consistent look. Today’s flowcharts are typically created using software.

Ten Continuous Improvement Tools

citoolsWhen involved in continuous improvement, there are a number of useful and necessary tools that one might use.

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 Charts to explore ideas about possible causes
  2. Process Mapping to spot and quantify the waste and trace it to the primary cause
  3. Cause and Effect Diagramming to stretch beyond initial ideas about possible root causes
  4. Histograms to provide new insights into the dynamics of process performance
  5. Run Charts to understand current process performance and distinguish between random variation and special causes
  6. Scatter Diagrams to clarify the importance of possible causal factors on results measurements
  7. Affinity Diagrams to find breakthrough ideas and natural relationships among the data
  8. Priority Matrices to consider alternatives and identify the right things to work on
  9. Interrelationship Digraphs to visually demonstrate the relationship among factors—causal factors (drivers) vs. symptoms so that you get the most leverage on interventions
  10. A dependable method of analyzing the data as outlined in recent posts

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