I remember a conversation with a person who worked in a kindergarten. I saw her taking care of over 20 children at the same time, keeping a more-than-acceptable atmosphere of control. I asked her about her secret and she told me: “you just have to make them finish what they are doing before they start doing something else”. And she was right. For example, if children were playing, they were told to put their toys back in their place before they would go to the playground. It did not work all the times, of course, but the idea was there.
With process standards you have pretty much the same. It’s important to consider 3 different phases:
- What things you need and what are the necessary steps to start the process (aka “shopping cart”)
- What things you need and what are the necessary steps to do the process (aka “standard worksheet”)
- What things you need and what are the necessary steps to finish the process (aka “quality check-sheet”)
Nobody ever forgets phase 2 when standardizing a process. However phases 1 and 3 can not always be found in work standards, although they are equally important to get the benefits of standardization. Making sure that everything is ready to use (phase 1) and providing instructions on how to check that the work has been performed correctly (step 3) are as important as describing how to do the work (phase 2). The combination of all 3 phases creates robust work standards that improve work flow (preventing people from starting new things before they have finished their previous work), reduce defects (helping people now if all critical quality attributes are present), and are also great training documents.
“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
- Problem one: management is not sharing the needed information with the shop floor. Managers who find everything crystal clear may honestly think that they are doing a great job sharing the critical information (e.g. what process step is causing most complaints). He/she can not understand why others don’t get it. The process may be truly very easy to understand but the information is not available where the work is really done. A gemba walk can be a great solution for this, so that this person sees in what conditions the work takes place. Once the real situation is clear, excellent next steps can be the implementation of standard work & visual management to make information available and make sure that it reaches every part of the process.
- Problem two: management is not getting the needed information from the shop floor. In this case, managers are oversimplifying (on purpose or not) a situation that is really more complex than they might think. Again, gemba walks and talking to process experts will work as an eye-opening experience. After this, standard work & visual management will help now too, but in this case you need to focus in making problems visible to everybody, agree actions to solve them as a team and make leaders go to the gemba regularly and track results.
I have been asked several times “why do lean people hate automation (or IT)?”. The answer is simple: we don’t.
IT systems/automation have 2 great advantages: unlimited calculation power and ubiquity. A low range IT system can calculate easily millions of times quicker than anybody, no matter how intelligent she/he is. And the information is everywhere with just one click. Simple paper-made visual boards will never outweigh them in these 2 aspects.
However, IT systems/automation must be introduced carefully in a process. First, you might think that putting an IT system in place will create a process. This is WRONG. IT systems must follow the process (help the process perform better) and not the opposite. I’ve seen many IT systems that have made the process worse because they forced unnatural behaviors to the people using them. In many cases, the IT system was implemented with the hope of improving the process, but the result was just the opposite. Remember: always design your process first, automate it afterwards.
Second, IT systems/automation are generally difficult to change, and typically only computer science engineers or similarly educated people can do that. People may become desperate when obvious improvement suggestions get never done. Obviously, this does not help create a continuous improvement culture. That’s why I rarely use IT in early stages of process development. I prefer easy to change, accessible to everybody systems (such as boards, paper, magnets, etc…) that can be understood and updated by anybody. Once the process is tested, improved, agreed and understood by everybody, it’s time to go IT (or not).
IT and automation can be the best solution in many cases, and a real nightmare in many others. They have to be chosen with care. Lean respects IT and automation, and that’s why it takes them so seriously.
Picture found at: http://inopalesolutions.com/task-automation/