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Effective Lean Problem Solving

3 min read

Solving problems in a business setting is an important part of the Lean methodology. Using Lean strategies, a company can better identify what problems exist, pinpoint the root causes, and come up with the right solutions to get the best results. Learning about how to effectively use Lean problem-solving techniques can help any business to improve and become more efficient.

Lean Problem-Solving Process

When working to make improvements in any business setting, it is important to start by identifying problems or potential problems. Solving existing issues is a great way to eliminate waste and improve efficiency very quickly. For many businesses, this is the ideal with to create a competitive edge that will help you to succeed.

When using the lean problem-solving techniques, you will go through a series of steps to get the results that are needed. The steps in the Lean problem-solving process are as follows:

  • Identify the Problem – The first thing to do is identify what the actual problem is. This should be as specific as possible and include as many details and other information as is available.
  • Break it Down – Breaking the problem down into different steps or parts is critical. This will make it possible to develop the right solutions for each aspect of the problem and help get things running as they should.
  • Establish Targets – It is difficult to solve a problem if you don’t know what a working system should look like. Establishing target goals for the system you are working on will help guide you through the rest of the process.
  • Look for the Root Cause – No problem can be truly solved without knowing what the root cause is. Keep asking questions about the issue at hand until you discover what is truly causing the issues. This can often be done using the ‘Five Whys’ technique, where you keep asking why something is happening until you reach the root cause.
  • Propose Countermeasures – Next, come up with ways that you can address the root cause. This could be one or more different actions that are designed specifically to deal with this issue.
  • Implement Countermeasures – Take the countermeasures that are proposed in the previous step and begin testing them. Ideally this can be done in a small test segment, but if needed it can be done in a full production environment. If a solution seems to work in a small system, expand it out to make sure the results scale up as expected.
  • Test the Results – Analyze the results by comparing the situation where the problem was found against your target results. If you are able to accomplish the goals identified as your target results, the problem-solving countermeasures are successful. If not, move back to proposing additional countermeasures to get the results you need.
  • Standardize – Once you have found a proven way to address the problem at hand, it is time to roll it out to the entire environment. Establishing new processes and procedures that will be followed by everyone in the facility is the last step in the problem-solving process.

Include All Impacted Parties

When going through the Lean problem-solving process it is important to consult with all the parties that are impacted by the problem at hand. It is quite rare that one person will be able to find the best possible solution to a problem, especially if they aren’t the ones who are directly impacted by the issue. Part of the Lean methodology is to work with various teams to come up with the best way of doing things. If you are facing a problem that needs a solution, you will want to include people from various groups such as:

  • Front Line Employees – These are typically the people who will deal with the problem on a regular basis. Nobody will have greater insights into the root cause, and potential solutions, than these employees. Having one or more people from this level helping to solve a problem is critical.
  • Supervisor – A supervisor or department manager will be able to provide additional insights into how the problem is impacting the business. They will also be the ones to help coordinate the implementation of any potential solutions so they should be involved.
  • Appropriate Management – If a problem, or the expected solutions, will require upper level management approval, someone from that team should be included in the process. It is easier to have someone from the leadership partnering with you from the beginning than to try to bring them up to speed for approval down the road.
  • Customers – When appropriate, having a customer available to discuss the problem can be very helpful. Customers are sometimes the ones who have the most information about the symptoms of the problem, which can make them very helpful.

Solving problems using Lean methodologies is a great way to help improve efficiency and eliminate waste in any workplace. Having an established process in place will allow you to quickly identify and solve a wide-range of problems in any environment.

Continuous Improvement Tools

2 min read

To achieve success with Kaizen – the Japanese philosophy of change for the better – it’s beneficial to adopt some of the tools in the continuous improvement toolbox.

Kaizen Newspaper

A kaizen newspaper is a document that lists current ideas, problems, solutions, and responsible parties. The newspaper is usually in spreadsheet or chart format and it is posted so everyone can see it. The document also indicates which phase of the PDCA cycle an idea is in. The goal is to help keep people on track and prevent ideas from falling through the cracks.

Visual Boards

Some workplaces create a larger visual board where kaizen ideas are posted. Alternatively, this board can highlight kaizen successes, sort of like a kaizen “wall of fame.” Seeing these successes can do several beneficial things. It can motivate employees to find new ways to improve, it can make employees whose ideas were successful feel appreciated, and it can help everyone in the organization track progress over time. This tool can serve as a record of continuous improvement.

Suggestion Boxes

A suggestion box is a traditional method for soliciting ideas from employees, and some workplaces that use kaizen employ suggestion boxes – either physical or electronic – for submitting ideas. These boxes can be useful, but it is important for a workplace to make sure someone is checking the box regularly and responding to ideas quickly. It’s easy for suggestion boxes to get neglected, and when that happens employees may feel their ideas aren’t taken seriously. All ideas should receive a response.

Quality Circles

A quality circle is an activity that engages employees in improvement efforts regularly. Quality circles are small groups that have been used frequently in Japan. These groups often contain employees who perform similar functions in the company and they meet regularly to solve problems and discuss quality, cost, delivery, and other important topics. These circles can help people learn how kaizen works and reinforce the importance of paying attention to improvement possibilities. Implementing kaizen takes work. People need to be educated about kaizen and the role it will play in the workplace. Events may need to take place to demonstrate how improvement processes such as the SDCA and PDCA cycles work. Quality circles or other tools may be instituted and time may be scheduled for daily kaizen. Management, supervisors, and employees all need to know their roles and feel that their ideas are respected. At first, the improvements may seem small, but as time goes by, organizations using kaizen will likely see notable gains in the way processes work. Ultimately, this can lead to happier customers, which means a more successful business.


Muda, Mura, and Muri: The Three Wastes

2 min read

Mura Muda MuriIdentifying waste using the 3 Ms can help you more easily set goals and create conditions that avoid unnecessary repetition of efforts (muda), unevenness of those efforts (mura), or efforts that cause strain (muri).

By focusing improvement activities on eliminating the non-value-adding parts of the production process, balance between capacity and load can be achieved.

Muda refers to waste in the most basic sense: any activity that doesn’t add value. There are seven wastes of manufacturing identified as muda, each one a common cause of loss during production. It includes: defects, waiting, motion, inventory, overproduction, over processing, and transportation. These are relatively easy wastes to spot in your facility, but the concepts of mura and muri warrant a little more explanation. Let’s take a closer look.

Mura – Unevenness in process or production

Elements of Mura

Mura, when translated refers to unevenness or irregularity, specifically in production levels. occurs because of wasteful allocations of materials or people. For example, employees might be directed to work intensely during the morning shift, which results in a lack of work to do in the afternoon. This start-speed up-stop scenario can be unhealthy for both workers and machines and can lead to unnecessary fatigue, stress, breakdowns, and accidents.

Muri – Overburden of Assets

Elements of Muri

Muri is the consistent overburden of equipment, facilities, and people. Muri pushes machines or people beyond their natural limits, causing fatigue and stress and increasing the likelihood of an accident. Overburdening equipment can also lead to breakdowns and increased defects, which results in wasted materials and products.

Ask yourself…

When you head out on a Gemba walk, keeping muda, mura, and muri in mind can provide a useful starting point for looking at your operations. The questions below can help you determine whether these wastes and misuses of resources are present in your facility and what activities are not adding value for the customer.

What Is Creating Waste (Muda)?

Look for and identify:

What Is Creating Unevenness (Mura)?

Look for and identify:

  • Inconsistent output
  • Fluctuations in quality
  • Stop and Go processes
  • Accumulation and overproduction

What Is Creating Strain (Muri)?

Look for and identify:

  • Overburdened workers
  • Overburdened machinery
  • Unbalanced work loads

Poor Visibility = Poor Process and Outcome

Look for and identify:

  • Poorly defined directions
  • Confusing signals
  • Metrics that are not easy to read or understand

Muda, mura, and muri are three separate categories for waste, but are also heavily connected to each other; addressing one area of waste will affect the other two wastes. Every strategy in the Lean toolbox can be used to reduce these wastes. For instance, if you are looking for a way to level the production in your manufacturing line to eliminate the waste of overproduction, implementing a Kanban system is a visual system to ensure production only happens when needed. It will be important in your journey to Lean to analyze your facility and identify areas of wastes. Take a Gemba walk and talk to frontline employees and develop a plan to address these wastes.

Kaizen Case Study: Siemens Oostkamp

2 min read

Siemens Oostkamp produces electronic components such as relays, connectors, and coils. The combination of fewer orders from their parent company and increasingly intense global competition forced them to look for new markets.

On his first tour of the plant, the kaizen consultant asked the supervisors if specific information was available, such as failure rate or setup times, and the answer was always, “It’s in the computer.” But when asked to retrieve it, no one ever could. The first task was to get the management to understand the need to collect data and make this information visible and accessible. Without this data, there is no way to know where to start.

kaizen case studyThe management at Siemens Oostkamp overcame initial resistance to change with their hands-on approach. They knew that their place was in Gemba and continuously motivated their workers to collect data and review their work.

Within a few months, they had enough data to know where to start. To put the kaizen activities in motion, self-managed work teams were formed in which the goals of kaizen were carried out with methods that the teams developed themselves.

With each employee a part of a team, they became more conscious of problems on the line and were able to solve the problems themselves. With this new clarity, they suggested and implemented small, incremental changes. And using the newly collected data, they assigned themselves specific goals to shoot for.

5S, visual management, and just-in-time were the main kaizen tools utilized by the teams to achieve their goals. In areas where 5S was implemented, the machines and floors were spotless, and the machine layouts were changed for a more efficient process ow.

Visual management was evident everywhere. Large charts were displayed that showed plant goals with numerical data and trend charts for each item. Tools had specific, clearly marked homes, and floors were marked showing designated areas for supply carts and finished products.

The just-in-time model revealed that changeover times at the molding department were taking too long. They instituted a new procedure that minimized the batch size and the number of boxes of work-in-process, thus decreasing the changeover times.

So, did kaizen help Siemens Oostkamp?

→ They were able to reduce the cost of inventory by 30%. Lead time for their brake coils went from 12 days to half a day.

→ Before kaizen, they kept a three month inventory of cable connectors; this is no longer necessary because the lead time has been reduced to three hours.

→ The number of product types has been reduced by 33%. Storage area was reduced by 10%.

→ The employees are now problem solvers. When a defective product was found, it used to take days to find the problem. Now they can see it right away and make adjustments.

Those are the tangible results. What the numbers don’t show is a happier, more fulfilled staff that enjoys coming to work. That translates to fewer sick days, less employee turnover, and better safety. That’s a success by anyone’s standards.

Seven Forms of Waste – Lean Six Sigma

4 min read

Understanding the Seven forms of Waste

If you are looking into implementing lean six sigma principles, the first thing you will need to do is to look at the seven forms of waste. Having a good understanding of what each of them are, and how they can be addressed in your facility, will help to ensure you are able to operate more efficiently.

When companies don’t take the time to really understand these seven forms of waste, they will end up losing focus over time. In the end, this can leave a facility in the same state it was in before, or sometimes even worse. With this in mind, take a moment to read about each of the seven forms of waste that are identified in the lean six sigma methodology.

Reviewing the Seven forms of Waste

1. Overproduction

When a facility produces too much of a product, it is a form of waste. Even if the product does eventually sell, it causes certain types of waste. For example, if you have too much of a product, it needs to be stored in a warehouse, which is wasting space. In addition, if the product isn’t selling well, you may have to sell it at a discount, which reduces profits.

2. Excess Motion

Seven Forms of Waste MotionMotion is necessary for the creation of products, but all too often things are moved unnecessarily, which is wasteful. This can happen when machines are not positioned efficiently so an item has to be transported long distances to get where it is gone. Too often, the item then has to come back the other way to finish a process.

Minimizing excess motion is a great way to reduce waste, since it won’t require resources to complete that motion. Another example of this is if someone is taking an inefficient route to where they need to go. Some facilities have even used colored floor marking tape to identify paths based on which product is being moved. The product simply follows the path along through the process so everyone knows the most efficient way to get to the next step.

3. Waiting

Another of the seven forms of waste is waiting. This can happen when work is not properly planned, so people working on one machine have to wait around for work from a previous station. Working with the work schedules of employees, you can often minimize the waiting to eliminate this type of waste.

People standing around doing nothing is just one form of waiting, however. If a machine has to wait for additional parts or resources, that is also wasteful. This is why proper inventory control is an important way to reduce waiting.

4. Unnecessary Processing

Seven Forms of Waste ProcessingMany companies make improvements to products just for the sake of improving them. If customers don’t want or need the improvement, than this is a type of waste. When customers don’t demand a change, they won’t be willing to pay for it.

If you find that a specific feature of a product is not something that your customers want, than it should be eliminated to avoid unnecessary processing.

5. Transportation

When items are moved around unnecessarily, it is wasteful. For example, some facilities will store a product in a warehouse for some time. If it sits for too long, they may move it to another warehouse or another location within the warehouse. This transportation does not provide any value, and actually wastes the resources of the people and machines that have to move it.

In addition, whenever there is transportation occurring, there is a risk of damaging the products. If an item is dropped, it will have to be fixed or even remade. This is, of course, a significant waste.

6. Excess Inventory

Seven Forms of Waste InventoryHaving excess inventory is one of the more common types of waste. This doesn’t just mean too many finished products, however, if you are storing a large amount of parts that are used for the creation of a product, that is also wasteful.

Ordering only what is needed for a specific order will help to ensure none of them go to waste. Having a system in place that will order more of each item when it is needed, and in a way that will ensure it shows up as close to the point where it is required as possible, will help to reduce inventory.

7. Defects

Whenever a product has a problem, it is very wasteful. Defective parts or products need to go back through to either be repaired or disposed of. Finding defects as soon as possible and identifying root causes of the problem so that it doesn’t happen again is essential to a lean workplace.

Even if it takes some time and resources to identify the causes of defects, it will be well worth the effort in the end. Over time, as the facility sees fewer and fewer defects it will be clear just how important eliminating this type of waste really is.

Always Review for Waste

Understanding the seven forms of waste in a lean facility is really just the beginning of an ongoing process. You need to make sure you are always on the lookout for any of these types of waste in the facility, and then put in the effort to have them eliminated.

At first, most facilities are able to find a lot of different wasteful things and make fast improvements. Over time, however, they can become more difficult to identify and smaller in nature. This is a good sign that the facility is beginning to operate more efficiently with less and less waste.

5 Tips for Kaizen Continuous Improvement

4 min read

Implement Kaizen Continuous Improvement in 5 Steps or Less

KaizenKaizen, the Japanese term underlying the concept of “continuous improvement,” continues to dominate work flow theory and the training that improvement professionals receive when they look for ways to bring their charges ‘to the next level’. Of course, the traditional tools and teachings of Kaizen are time-proven and ultimately brilliant in their own right, but there are undoubtedly other factors that can influence the effectiveness of Kaizen.

Today, I want to focus on five contextual factors that a workplace manager or Lean/Six Sigma professional can do to help improve the way they, well, improve!  Contextual Kaizen involves bettering one’s self and one’s work environment to be better equipped to implement Kaizen in the first place. Some of these will pertain to very specific tasks or skills, while others are more about training your mind to view problems and improvement opportunities in a certain way. As with just about any piece of advice, these tips will work better when customized to your own operations, and some of them will be better suited for your business than others. Without further adieu, let’s jump right in!

Top 5 Tips to Make Kaizen Work for You

1. Don’t Do It All The Time, Just… Don’t

Kaizen Continuous Improvement SignConfused yet?  I’m actually talking about Kaizen itself, because one of the best ways to shut yourself off to new ideas, to get overwhelmed, or to get stuck into a solution or category of solutions that just isn’t working is to tunnel vision yourself into one pursuit. Creative industry professionals know that the best ideas usually don’t come from sitting at a desk thinking about the idea itself, they come from stimulating the brain in other ways.

While training and learning about Kaizen in a traditional sense are important, challenge yourself to completely get out of the house/office and dedicate some “outside time” to your continuous improvement efforts. The hardest part about this tip is that many people will disregard it as counter-intuitive, if you’ve got an issue that needs tackled, how is ignoring it going to help? And, really, I’m not telling you to ignore it, but to just try and draw inspiration from other things and places. Remember, the very first time a great idea was implemented, it had to be thought up. Sure, there were influences from previous iterations, but something truly innovative can’t be simply picked out of a book or online course. Find your golden acorn out in the open world.

2. Teach Others

Kaizen Small ImprovementsWhen it does come down to the booksmarts, one of the absolute best ways you can crystallize LSS teachings in your own mind is by teaching them to others. For example, when I was in college I tutored a student who was struggling in our basic calculus class. When he started doing better on his tests, I wasn’t all that surprised, but then something even more interesting happened:  I improved too. I went from A’s and B’s to straight A’s (and several 100% grades) for the rest of the semester!

Teaching others the skills you learn forces you to fully understand them. You can’t just breeze over things and think “yeah, yeah, I get it,” you have to really know what you’re talking about if you’re going to explain the ins and outs of it to others. In Kaizen, a great way to do this is to workshop with your employees and go through various hypothetical (or real) improvement scenarios. By doing this, you’re likely to not only improve your own knowledge but also help get people on board with your continuous improvement efforts as they’ll better understand both the means and objectives.

3. Find Other People’s Stuff That You Love, Document It

Not every single idea is going to be a game changer, but marginal improvements can be made in many aspects of your business just by simply observing what others are doing. This could be your direct competition, or companies in completely unrelated industries that are doing something you like.

When you’re at the store and come across packaging that catches your eye, slogan ideas that stick in your head, or see employees in another warehouse doing something that you think would work well in your own, document it. Take pictures and notes using some combination of a notepad/phone/camera as your current situation allows, then take these ideas back to the office and see if any of them could work for you.

4. Become A Entertaining Presenter

No really, become the Tony Robbins of the boardroom; get people pumped about your ideas!  Continuous improvement means continuous change, and change can be intimidating. While I’ve done plenty of articles on compliance amongst improvement efforts, a stand out factor is “selling” people on what you want them to do. While step number 2 (Teaching Others) is one way to do this, you probably won’t have time to teach everyone everything, after all, they do have other jobs to do!

Instead, take public speaking and even art classes, and learn to draw and illustrate your ideas effectively while talking about them at the same time. Continuity of ideas and confidence both inspire people to follow you, and these small things you can teach yourself will help you to exude both of those.

5. Improve Yourself First

The Kaizen Revolution Book

The Kaizen Revolution Book

You’ve probably noticed that many of these ideas ties into “self-improvement,” and that’s for good reason. One of the hallmarks of a true Kaizen expert is that they’re always evolving and keeping up with the latest trends and knowledge. In order to stay relevant and knowledgable, try your best to make a conscious effort to always improve yourself, much in the same way you want to improve a company.

Read daily blogs, subscribe to useful twitter feeds, join groups on LinkedIn that discuss continuous improvement strategies regularly, etc. Then go old school and buy books, CDs, tapes (wait, do those even still exist?), and whatever else you can get your hands on.

When it comes to Kaizen, don’t feel selfish putting yourself first – your ideas, and thus your workforce, bottom line, etc., will benefit from it greatly.

Why Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis is a Great Tool

4 min read

Six Sigma Root Cause AnalysisMaking Improvements with Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis

When things aren’t going the way they should, it can often be quite difficult to identify what is actually causing the problem. Despite the fact that it can take a lot of work, root cause analysis is extremely important because of the fact that it will allow you to not just cover up issues, but actually address them directly.

In many cases, this will allow you to make significant long term improvements to your facility. With that in mind, all facilities should have a method of digging into problems to discover the root cause. For a growing number of facilities, this methodology comes right from their existing Six Sigma strategies.

What is the Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis Strategy?

Six Sigma Root Cause AnalysisThe Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy is often known simply as the “Five Whys.”  As you might expect, it gets this name because of the fact that it encourages those working on problems to ask “why?” until they get to the root cause of the problem.

In reality, you may have to ask yourself (or your team) why only once or twice or far more than five times. The important thing is to make sure you are asking the right questions and that you don’t stop until you get to the actual root cause of the problem.

Before you ask yourself ‘why’ at all, however, you need to clearly define the problem. The Six Sigma standard suggests that you write it out so that you and the entire team have a single point of focus when working on the issues. This will help you to avoid getting distracted when performing this root cause analysis.

To get a concrete idea of how this could work in a normal, everyday situation, follow this simple example. If you are driving home and your check engine light came on, you might run through a Six Sigma root cause analysis to figure it out. First, you define the problem statement, which might be, “Your vehicle is operating, but the check engine light has come on.” You would then begin asking why?  For example:

  • Q) Why did the check engine light come on?

o   A) Because the serpentine belt came off. *You can confirm this by looking under the hood or seeing if other systems that rely on this belt are impacted.

If you determine that this is not the root cause of your problem, you will move on to the next why:

  • Q)What is another reason why the check engine light came on?

o   Because I have not changed the oil in eight months. *Again, confirm this by checking the oil levels or taking it to a mechanic.

If you find that this is the cause, you will still need to continue asking why, since the oil not being changed is not the root cause:

  • Q) Why wasn’t the oil changed on time?

o   Because I forgot to schedule the oil change.

  • Why did I forget to schedule the oil change?

o   Because I stopped using my calendar app on my phone

You now know that the root cause to your engine light is actually the poor organizational skills and a failure to use the proper tools to help prevent these types of things. As you can see, by getting to the root cause of this issue, you actually likely avoided a variety of other problems in the future (related to the root cause of poor scheduling and organization).

Of course, you will have to take steps to fix the problem, but once you have identified the root cause, that won’t be difficult at all.

Keeps the Focus

One of the biggest benefits of the Six Sigma root cause analysis system is that it helps to ensure that everyone working on a problem stays very focused. It can be tempting for many people to get off topic and start looking into potential issues that aren’t related to the actual problem at hand.

While this can be beneficial for discovering other issues, a root cause analysis session is not the right time for it. By continuing to ask ‘why’ based questions, it allows you to keep moving forward in the investigation.

Easier to Identify the Actual Root Cause

Another major advantage to this system is that it is much easier to know when you have reached the actual root cause. When you can’t think of any more ‘why’ questions that make sense to ask, that almost certainly means that you’ve reached the root cause.

Some people may be tempted to keep finding and asking these questions (as you can always ask why) but when it is clear that all the questions being asked aren’t actually helping to drive toward a root cause, the process is over. You can then find where the questions ended, and that is the root cause.

Finding the Solution

Floor Marking ShapesWith the Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy you are not only able to find the actual root cause much more effectively, but the solution to the problem is often built right in. Once you see where the root cause is, you can often go back and look at the answers to the previous questions to come up with ideas on how to address that root cause.

In a way, the whole process of finding the actual cause of issues is actually going to be preparing you for the problem resolution as well. This will allow the problem analysis and investigation to go much more quickly, while also being more effective.

For example, if there is a safety issue where there are frequently accidents or near misses in an area where there are frequently people walking as well as high-low’s driving, you can use this method to ask several why questions, to which the answer may lead to the fact that there is no easily identifiable difference between where people should be walking and where vehicles should be driving.

Once you get to this conclusion, you can quickly realize that adding floor marking tape that clearly distinguishes where vehicles need to drive will solve the problem. You can also determine whether or not it is necessary to use color coding for this, or even using floor marking shapes for further benefits.

The bottom line with the Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy is that it will help you to more quickly determine what exactly is causing the problem, while at the same time coming up with a solution. It is well structured and can be effective for nearly any type of problem imaginable.

Why You Should Use Takt Time Production & How To Do It

5 min read

Cut Down Wastes with Takt Time Production

Takt Time ProductionThere are many types of waste within a facility, and many different things that can contribute to that waste. For most facilities, one of the biggest causes of waste is improper planning on the production line. In some cases, the line will produce products too slowly, which is inefficient, and can upset customers. In other cases, products are produced too quickly, which is a waste of resources. In addition, too much of a specific item may be produced, which is yet another form of waste.

One great way to dramatically cut down on waste associated with the production line is to implement the lean manufacturing takt time production standards.

What is Takt Time Production?

To put it simply, takt time production is a concept that helps the production line to produce products at the rate that the customers need them. It can be written out like this:

Estimated Production Time / Customer Demand = Takt Time

The more accurately you can predict the production time, and the more consistent customer demand is, the better you can use this type of production planning to reduce waste. Of course, even in situations where you don’t have the most accurate numbers, this system can still be quite useful.

Benefits of Takt Time Production

The main benefit of takt time production is going to be that your production line is operating more efficiently. There will be less waste, and it will be easier to predict the amounts of products you are producing each shift. The following are some of the key benefits that your facility will likely enjoy, and how this type of production planning will produce them.

  • Reduces Over Production – One common issue with selling products to customers is that you typically have to have a set amount produced and ready to ship in order to quickly satisfy demand. With this type of production planning, you can produce more as needed, which reduces the amount of inventory you need to store.
  • Manages Overtime – Since you will be producing products on a more consistent basis, you won’t be going through the cycle of needing people to work overtime one week, and then not having enough work the next. This can often reduce the overall expenses related to the labor.
  • Easier Planning – It is much easier to plan out your shift requirements and production needs when you have a more stable production schedule.
  • Fewer Errors – When you are rushing to get production done quickly, it may lead to product errors. When you are on a more consistent schedule, the error rate often goes down significantly.
  • Improved Price Management – One of the big problems that come up when you over produce products so they are ready is that you occasionally have to drop your price to reduce inventory (during product changes or updates, for example). With takt time production, this is not as much of a concern so you don’t need to adjust the prices.

Your facility will, of course, have additional benefits that are specific to your situation. Keeping track of production rates and other stats is a great way to monitor exactly how your facility is benefiting from this type of production planning.

How to Implement Takt Time Production

You can’t simply implement takt time production without some planning and information gathering ahead of time. If you try to rush through this initial stage, you’ll end up running into a lot of problems, and often actually increasing the amount of waste in your facility during the transition.

Instead, take your time to really plan it out and get everything properly into place before making any changes. The first thing you should do is gather together the following pieces of data so you can use them to customize the rest of the implementation process:

  • Average Customer Orders – Knowing how many of each product you produce your customers tend to order is very important. This should be broken down based on historical data. Looking, for example, at monthly or even weekly trends is very important.
  • Due Dates – In addition to knowing how much of each product your customers will order, you also want to know the approximate due dates you can expect. Some customers, for example, may order well in advance of their need so you will have more flexibility. Others may wait until the last minute.
  • Ideal Production Rate – Understanding how many products per hour/shift you can produce without sacrificing quality is essential. This will help you with scheduling and meeting goals.
  • Sick/Vacation Trends – In most areas the amount of sick days and vacation days taken go up and down based on seasonal trends. Know these trends so you can better plan out your staffing.

There will also be other pieces of data that are specific to your facility, which you can use to help improve the planning and implementation of takt time production.

Process Planning

Another essential part of this type of production planning is ensuring everyone is following the same production methods. Coming up with a set of standards that everyone can follow will help ensure you can accurately predict the number of products that you can produce per shift.

Take some time to review how each job in the facility is done, and then create some best practices that everyone should follow. This can take quite some time to complete, but it will be well worth the effort in the end.


Takt Time ProductionOnce you have all the data in place, and the best practices planned out, you will need to provide proper training to your employees. Getting all the employees to understand what takt time production is, and what their role will be is very important.

Make sure you point out the benefits that they will enjoy from this new process. Things like more predictable schedules and more consistent work are typically very appealing to the employees.

In addition, train them on the new processes that you expect them to follow. During this time you can also introduce the process by which employees can make recommendations on how to improve existing best practices. This will help get a system in place for constant improvement within the facility. Having this system will also keep people from just doing things their own way because they think it is better.

Activation and Evaluation

Once everyone has been trained, you will want to start operating based on the takt time production standards. While at this point you will have successfully implemented the takt time production system in your facility. This does not, however, mean that the job is done.

At this point you will want to begin gathering as much data as possible, and observe how the work is being done. In most cases you will notice that there are some small things that can be tweaked or improved. Taking the time to really analyze the data you are able to collect and make adjustments as needed will help improve the long term success of this type of production.

Even if things seem to be going smoothly, you can almost always find ways to improve the production in your facility and reduce waste even further.

How Kaizen is Imperative to LEAN Success

4 min read

Kaizen is a Japanese term that relates to making continuous improvement in organizations through improving the process. Kaizen events have been met with opposition by many organizations because for it to work successfully, employees must step away from their jobs between three and five days to participate in the events. Rather than take a preventative approach, employers are more likely to use kaizen events to address problems retroactively. This approach is ineffective. To have the most impact in your organization, there should be some proactive assessments of the organization to achieve LEAN success.

What to Expect From a Kaizen Event

The three to five day events will consist of activities, which may include: brainstorming, training, documenting the current state of the organization, and defining problems and goals. Once these activities are complete, a kaizen event may address the implementation process, how to address a follow-up plan, and how to present results. The events will also teach organizations to celebrate successes and keep their employees motivated through rewards.

How Kaizen Events Have Been Used to Achieve LEAN Success

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) has been used in the past to improve equipment reliability. Product development process and product design manufacturability has been improved using kaizen events also. Some companies have used kaizen events to organize the workplace using 5S concepts or change a process using equipment. 5S can promote efficiency and productivity by sorting, straightening, shining, standardising, and sustaining processes to achieve the goal.

When kaizen events cannot solve a problem in an organization, Six Sigma analysis is often employed to reduce waste and yield improvement. In general, if a team needs to meet regularly over a period of time to solve a problem, Six Sigma is recommended. Otherwise, it will require only a kaizen team meeting.

During a kaizen event, employees are encouraged to come up with ideas that will achieve results and improve efficiency and productivity. In order for a kaizen event to be successful, several activities must occur or milestones must be achieved:1. Discover and Address Problems at the Source

During a kaizen event, team members must discover problems and create solutions to address them at the source. This will prevent the “band-aid effect” where problems keep reoccurring because the root of the problem was not eliminated. Kaizen events teach employees to avoid this problem, which leads to LEAN success.

2. Concentrate on Small Improvements for Immediate Results

Team members must concentrate on small improvements to get immediate results. This may involve the use of creative investments. Small improvements are less daunting and more achievable. Focus on creating small improvements for big overall results. This is important for LEAN success.

3. Make Better Use of Capacity and Capital

For LEAN success, team members must make better use of production capacity and capital. When production capacity is increased, more product can be produced as long as the process is efficient. They must also increase employee retention with a kaizen event. When new employees do not have to be constantly retrained, the processes remain more efficient and fewer defects are produced. LEAN success can be achieved when team members master this concept during a kaizen event.

4. Decrease Waste in the Production Process

Team members must work to decrease waste in all aspects of the production process. When waste is reduced, less money is spent trying to dispose of the waste and also on materials that created the waste. Plans can be devised at the Kaizen event to decrease or eliminate waste in the production process. This will lead to LEAN success.

5. Eliminate or Transform Existing Procedures

Team members must work to eliminate extraneous procedures or transform existing procedures. This will give the organization more productivity and efficiency and get team members one step closer to LEAN Success.

Keep in mind that the Kaizen approach involves applying best practices and using your employees strengths to grow your business. You can develop your competitive advantage by identifying how people can contribute to the business. Start by measuring all of the possible metrics and standardizing your work culture. This will help you address the problem and achieve success sooner.

How to Guarantee Success at Your Kaizen Event

1. Create a Cross-Functional Team and Involve Employees

Create a cross-functional team of employees that works in the process area where the kaizen event will be held. Members from other areas with a fresh perspective can also be invited. Operators should also be invited to facilitate communication throughout the organization. This will prevent confusion.

Many facilitators recommend placing a flip chart in the area where employees work. When ideas are posted before the event begins, discussions will be more fruitful. For the most success, employees must remain informed throughout the entire event and the operators should be evaluated after the event.

2. Plan Your Event in Advance

Most people fail to plan the event in advance, and the events become ineffective because there is no clear direction. LEAN success cannot be achieved in this instance. Thus, to ensure success objectives, deliverables, and metrics must be defined. Bring all the necessary supplies to the event such as post-it notes, paint, and tape. Be sure to reserve a space large enough for your event.

3. Spend More Time on the Floor than in the Classroom

Eighty percent of your time should be spend on the floor planning and designing. The remaining 20 percent of the time should be spent in the classroom. This will ensure the event is fruitful, which will lead to LEAN success. Keep in mind that a Vision event will require more classroom time.

4. Implement the Plan, Do, Check, Act/Adjust (PDCA)

Apply PDCA to your kaizen event for LEAN success. Plan what you are going to accomplish on each day. Then, review what you did each day. Next, determine the results, and determine what you plan to do the next day. Adjust the plan for additional success. Always follow up to determine the success of the event.

5. Stay Focused on the Event

Stay focused on the event and don’t let big issues deter you from completing the tasks in your organization. Any homework from the event should be minimal.

Kaizen events help organizations think long-term rather than short term. Organizations must learn how to view beyond just an operational point of view. Instead, they must realize that Kaizen is about cultural change. The concept created by the kaizen master, Masaaki Imai, in the 1980s is highly effective if applied properly. Organizations must use the concepts and learn how to avoid failure in applications that have not been successful in the past. LEAN success can be achieved when kaizen events are held and the plans are implemented. Try a kaizen event in your organization.

Focus on Better Decisions Rather than Workflow Improvement

3 min read

Ongoing improvement in any industry is essential for the success of a business. When companies, or even individual facilities, become stagnant, their competition can quickly overtake them. With this in mind, it is important for all companies, and the individuals who make them up, should always be trying to make improvements.

In many facilities, the main focus is on workflow improvement. Things like adjusting the way a particular part is made, for example, can decrease the amount of time it takes and eliminate some types of waste. These types of improvement are excellent, and essential for the success of businesses. Unfortunately, however, they are also much more difficult to come by, and constant improvements like these can’t be sustained.

Routine Decisions

routine-decisionsFor companies that are looking for ways to promote ongoing improvement throughout a facility, it is better to focus on the routine decisions that are made every day by employees of all levels. Helping people learn how to analyze a given decision, and make it with the best interest of the company at heart, will allow for things to run more smoothly.

Different types of companies and facilities will need to approach this in a way that works out best for them, but the general concept can be applied to any situation. If, for example, a manufacturing facility provides training to their employees regarding what the end result for each part it, it can give them more information to work with when making decisions. Rather than having to follow a set standard with every decision they make, it can give them additional flexibility to make smarter decisions on a regular basis.


Daily Decisions

DAILY-DECISIONSOne of the things that make this focus much more effective is the fact that employees make dozens of decisions every day. Multiply this out by every employee in a company, and it is easy to see why this is so critical. Even though the vast majority of these decisions are small and almost insignificant in nature, the sheer number of them makes them one of the best ways to influence change in a facility.

When employees aren’t encouraged to make better decisions on their own, they are often constrained by the processes and procedures. When something comes up that is not clearly defined, they often have to stop what they are doing to seek advice or clarification. This, of course, wastes the time of both the employees and the manager they are asking the question of.

Daily Decisions Drive Workflow Improvement

Another important thing to consider when working to improve the daily decisions of employees through the facility is the fact that it is these decisions that lead to the workflow improvements. When people are given the opportunity and ability to make smarter daily decisions, they will be more likely to find ways to improve the work is done. Rather than focusing directly on attempting to improve workflow, which can often result in forced changes that don’t work out well, focusing on daily decisions leads to a much more organic and natural workflow improvement cycle.

Employees making informed decisions will typically want to share the positive results of those decisions with others, which may come in the form of a workflow improvement idea. While not all of them will be implemented, it can often lead to a steady stream of improvement ideas to be evaluated and possibly implemented.

Improved Employee Engagement

Another reason that focusing on better decisions is such a smart idea is the fact that it will empower employees to make decisions on their own. Empowered employees are far more likely to be actively engaged in their work. They often have a greater sense of purpose in their job, which makes them significantly more productive. When employees are forced to ask for permission or for clarification on even small decisions, they can become disheartened and become disengaged with their work. This can lead them to look for work at another company, or just stay with the company but become unproductive.