As you and your company travel along the lean journey, the ability for your team to identify and take part in solving their own problems becomes important. What often surprises us is that as we make progress, more problems seem to arise, not less as we often expect. It’s not that those problems weren’t there before, it was that they were hidden amongst the noise of the daily crisis and high levels of inventory and general day to day angst.

Having said that, not all problems are the same and therefore don’t need the same approach. With only a hammer, everything will look like a nail, so you need a range of tools in your problem solving tool kit. Our lean tools help to highlight these problems by making them obvious and increasing the need to fix them, rather than continue to work around them. Having a robust, multi level approach to problem solving help to make problem solving more achievable

A Multi Level Approach to Problem Solving

Even the concept of multi level problems solving can be comforting; not only does it provide a scope to clearly define a range of practical approaches, it also makes it easier to train and engage your team, so they can solve problems that are relevant to them and at their level of concern.

trigger points for problem solving

A multi level problem solving approach may include, but is not limited to:

  • discussing top 3 issues from previous shift at SOS meeting
  • small team 5 why’s to dig a little deeper into an issue
  • concern strips to document a problem
  • using a fishbone diagram to help focus your team’s brainstorming of possible causes
  • A3 problem solving when a project approach is needed

Problem Solving Trigger Points

Trigger points are your company’s “rules” around when to jump into problem solving mode, and at what level. For example, small line stoppages may not be enough to warrant a problem solving activity, but if these small stops are happening with increasing frequency, then it may be time to put some attention towards it. At the other end of the problem scale, a major equipment failure may have occurred and you just need to get the line up and running again; in this scenario, your team may need an A3 level investigation to identify the issues and investigate the most lies root cause. Having clear rules around when to jump into problem solving mode and at whet level will help your team be clear on what the company expectations are.

Each of the problem solving levels your company uses needs to have  a clear “Trigger” based on the functionality of your business and industry. You also need to consider who will be involved in problem solving; when are the operators included? Or is it up to Engineering or Maintenance to determine what is going on?

How to Determine your Trigger Points

Trigger points to engage in multi level problem solving need to be developed with your product and support teams. What this looks like will be different for each company, depending on what industry you are in, how big your business is and how mature your team is with problem solving.

At Toyota, an Andon light will be triggered when a problem can’t be solved within the defined time, often within a few minutes. For a continuous production line, a 30 minute downtime may trigger a 5 Why’s investigation. For industries with longer lead times, a 4 hour stoppage may highlight the need for further investigation.

To get started, determine a board guideline and then check to see how well your teams are going. The balance between making time to carry out a problem solving activity and keeping production going will need to be discussed and negotiated. As your company matures through your Lean journey it will become clear that time spent solving problems with your team will provide a business return with reduced downtime and improve productivity.

Improving your ability to identify and solve problems efficiently becomes important as your lean implementation progresses. Having a multi level problem solving approach, along with clear trigger points, can help your team understand when they need to jump into “Problem Solving” mode.

In our previous article we talked about the stumbling blocks with creating a value stream map. Now we will look at ways of overcoming the stumbling block in the four key areas of getting started, pulling our team together, creating the map and then implementing the actions.

Getting Started with Value Stream Mapping

vsm workshopTo overcome the stumbling block in getting started with value stream mapping it is important to plan for the event. Event planning includes having the right data together that represent the real numbers from the previous 12 months, plus a good idea of what the next 12 months may look like.

Communication is also important; everyone, and we mean everyone within the organisation needs to know what is going on, not just the management team and participants. Use your current forums such as notice boards newsletter daily meeting and mostly review to let everyone know that value stream event is happening.

During preparation, we need to ask who is responsible for the cost, quality and on time delivery of the product stream from start to finish. Often this will cover multiple people across many departments and this is why the team composition is important.

Team Composition for Value Stream Mapping

When considering the team composition, a cross functional team is needed to cover all elements of the product or service value chain. The team needs a good leader and an overall willingness to adopt the Lean principles and be self directed, with a willingness to try, potentially fail and learn, as they construct and implement the value stream map activities.

The team members need experience in their departments functions and understand the date that sits behind their daily activities.

The team size can vary however a team of two people is not enough to draw out the content needed. To overcome this teams of 5 to 8 people give better results as a mixture of experience, diversity and understanding allow the value stream mapping process to be more grounded and broader in scope.

Creating the Value Stream Map

When we have good preparation and a good team composition, many of the stumbling blocks for creating the value stream map are more easy to overcome. At each step the team needs to understand the difference between what each process step should be and what the process actually is on a daily basis. This is where actual observation is an important; “Go and see” is vital to ensure the whole team has a common understanding that is then recorded on the value stream map. While documenting the value chain, we will be challenged with what is actually going on in our factory – both the good and the bad. At all times the team must be respectful of the people who are doing the daily tasks. The map needs to highlight as wastes as they truly are; only then can a value stream map be effective to lead continuous improvement.

A good facilitator will also help to overcome stumbling blocks during the value stream mapping process. Their role is to keep the process on track and find a balance between getting the right information documented with our getting too stuck in details. The use of a Holding Area or Parking Lot for issues and ideas that are outside of scope or in need of further clarification can help to keep the team focussed on the value stream. These items can them be collected and reviewed after the workshop.

Implementation of a Value Stream Mapping Plan

When the value stream map is complete, it is important to brief the broader company and let everyone have the opportunity to ask questions and understand the next steps. Remember that the lean journey is a long one and the basics need to be implemented first before jumping ahead to advanced lean concepts; stability in cycle time, delivery and quality is needed first. You can read more about the Hierarchy of Continuous Improvement here.

During implementation, the actions are investigated and some may not be achievable or the timeframe may not be realistic. In these cases, the value stream map needs to be updated to reflect these changes and show what is actually what is going to be implemented. Like any good plan, make sure your implementation plan is SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Accountable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

During implementation, check there is a good auditing process to check progress on a weekly basis. This needs to fit into your existing management and communication structure. If you do not have one, that will become on of the first actions to implement.

Getting Help with your Value Stream Map

Having an experienced facilitator will help you overcome the stumbling blocks of Value Stream Mapping. This will improve the quality of the mapping process, the team interactions and the overall outcome to your business. The team at TXM work with many teams and have created many value stream maps, across a range of industries. We would love to discuss your continuous improvement and value stream mapping requirements with you!

Learn more about TXM’s Unique Approach to Value Stream Mapping – the Manufacturing Agility Process

Business process map Value stream mappingUnderstanding your company’s “Value Stream” is an important part of your Lean Manufacturing journey, regardless of what type of products you are making or services you are offering. Today we will look at stumbling blocks when using the Value Stream Mapping approach in your business.

The Value Stream that runs through your company is the series of processes that add value to a product which a customer will then pay for. In many manufacturing environments, the manufacturing value stream is listed in the work order or traveller – those steps that need to be done in the right order to make the product. Value Stream Map is used to gain a broader understanding of the entire process, that builds on the manufacturing value dream and expands to include the entire cycle, from a customer placing an order, to purchasing materials, making the product the then shipping to the customer. The task of creating a value stream map helps to generate ideas for process improvement, builds stronger communication, and documents a process for all to see.

Creating a Value stream map is a straight forward process but there are frequent stumbling blocks that can upset or slow down the process. Here are the most common stumbling blocks that TXM consultants have experienced over past projects, across each stage of creating a value stream map.

Stumbling Blocks When Getting Started

  • Participants feel the answer is already known before the map is created; this is a fundamental problem when embarking on the exercise in the first place
  • Not determining the product process families before starting, or having the right data collated

Stumbling Blocks with the Team Composition

  • Varying level of experiencing within the group
  • The map is created by a small team of one or two people, or only 1 or 2 people within a group contribute
  • Lacking an experienced leader and company representative in the first few events

Stumbling Blocks While Creating a Value Stream Map

  • Not looking and listening at the place where value is created
  • Collecting too much detail in some areas and not enough in other areas, resulting in an unbalanced map
  • Missing or uncertain steps on the map
  • Spending too long or becoming bogged down the details.
  • Using unclear terminology with Value Stream Mapping conventions and symbols

Stumbling Blocks During Implementation

  • Map too complex for the everyone to understand
  • Jumping to advance lean concepts such as Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM), or Kanban without basic building blocks of 5S and visual management in place
  • Not updating the map when changes are needed
  • Not implementing agreed actions created from the value stream map
  • Not sharing the maps in common areas for employees to see and review

When done correctly the value stream map becomes a central piece to hold conversations around. As many of us in the manufacturing industry prefer visual information over our other senses, it feeds that need and provides a stepping stone to creating a common understanding of the business as well as the value stream itself. As the map is used to develop a vision for the future of the company it can be used to communicate to the wider company about what has been achieved, discovered, considered and decided to act upon. It is a powerful tool to educate others and help them feel part of the change process as it unfolds.

When you are considering your team for your next value stream mapping activity, remember that there are many benefits in addition to just a colourful map, so give those key people a chance to participate in this important process. In the next article, we explore how to minimise, or overcome these common stumbling blocks when creating a value stream map.

Learn More about TXM’s Unique Approach to Value Stream Mapping – The Manufacturing Agility Process

Address Old Problems with The Six Big Losses in Manufacturing

The Six Big Losses are a framework developed by the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance in the 1970’s, which defines the losses in manufacturing and provides guidelines as how to examine efficiency problems.  The framework is about emphasising proactive improvements around having fewer defects, stoppages and breakdowns.

In addressing the Six Big Losses, the challenge is in determining the root-cause and the extent of the problem. By using this framework the issues can be broken into into groups and then implement improvements for sustain change.

The framework looks at the losses in categories of Availability, Performance and Quality.  Each category is split into groups:

TPM Visual Standard
Visual Standards for Maintenance like these can be Posted on Key Machines as Part of a TPM program to Reduce the Six Losses

Availability Losses

1. Equipment failures/Unplanned Stops

2. Set-up and changeovers/Planned Stops

Performance Losses

3. Idling and minor stoppages

4. Reduced speed

Quality Losses

5. Scrap/rework

6. Startup losses

Availability Loss

When it comes to the availability of a process, it is critical to understanding the causes of that loss and to define the time spent during unplanned stops and also knowing the time it takes to perform any planned setup/changeover events.  Reducing the time for unplanned and planned events increases the running time available to production.

Big Loss No. 1: Equipment Failures or Unplanned Stops

It is important to identify equipment failures or downtime into separate events and to measure the time taken for each event to understand the causes.  Collecting and recording these events on the charts or into production software is an important step in understanding the facts. Examples of equipment failure include tooling failure, breakdowns, and unplanned maintenance, no operators or materials, lack of parts or failure of downstream equipment.

Big Loss No. 2: Setup and Change Overs

The largest source of downtime is typically changeover events and are often referred to as “make ready” or “setup” depending on the industry.  Changeovers can be improved greatly and are addressed through the use of SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Dies) programs.  Changeover events are planned however when there is no target time and no real-time visibility, this time becomes difficult to improve over time.  Common reasons for longer changeovers are major adjustments, tooling adjustments, cleaning, warmup time and quality inspections.

When actual changeover times are compared against targets, improvements can be made to reduce setup times and increase machine availability. Examples of improvements can include setup instructions, first article reports and feedback on actual changeover performance against targets.

Performance Losses

Big Lost No. 3: Idling and Minor Stoppages or Small Stops

Idling and minor stoppages typically leads to other costly problems. This is one of the easiest areas for improvement and in most cases, taking corrective action involves simple changes in working practices rather than costly equipment upgrades. However, to achieve sustainable improvements in this area, information must be captured as the minor stops occurs quickly and can easily be missed or thought of as just part of the process. Documenting this to indicate the time and the reasons for stoppages is the place to start.

Big Loss No. 4: Reduced Speed Operation

The objectives for manufacturers is to improve the speed of an operation. However, there is a balance to achieve between the optimal efficiency of an individual piece of equipment and product quality produce for a process. Having the ability to see real-time line speeds can have a dramatic effect on performance. Common reasons for reduced speed include unclean machines, worn equipment, lubrication, materials, environmental conditions, operator experience, general startup and shutdown methods.

Quality Loss

Big Loss #5: Scrap and Rework

In terms of scrap and rework, knowing the amount of the loss is not enough. To improve performance accurate indications and the sources of the loss are required. Reviewing and reporting of poor quality is included into the quality system and corrective actions are implemented to correct the part and to improve the process. Examples of common reasons for scrap and rework include incorrect settings, handling errors, and poor setup.

Big Loss # 6: Startup Losses

In every startup routine there are losses in starting up a process. To get a line running at full running speed requires operators to set up the line and losing product is often part of the process. Having greater visibility of the startup conditions for the line is important to understanding expected losses. Embedding the use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can help define exactly how the line is to be set up, in order to minimise the amount of waste during startup conditions.  Common reasons for start up include poor changeovers, incorrect settings,  startup cycles, or equipment wear.


By considering the “Six Big Losses” framework as a guide for continuous improvement, efficiencies can be found to improve capacity, reducing costs and increasing profitability.


For those of you who have been follow along on the TXM blog for awhile, you will know that we often talk about the importance of visual controls, and how they help to improve the efficiency of our teams. On a recent visit to the Henry Technologies warehouse in Melbourne we noticed their excellent warehouse signage. While it was extremely effective it was also really simple. We wanted to share these practical tips for warehouse signage with you.

There are four key aspects to this practical warehouse signage:

  • Identifying the rows,
  • Identifying the racks,
  • Identify the shelves and
  • Identifying the locations

Identifying the Rows

Firstly each row was allocated number, with number one being the closest to the workstation and the numbers increasing as you moved further away. Each row displayed its number, which was a vinyl numeral on a core-flute sign. This sign was then attached to the end of the racking with velcro. The velcro lets you easily move signs and racks around as your warehouse grows or product mix changes.

practical warehouse visual management

Identifying the Rack

Next, each rack was identified with a letter and on a different coloured paper, allowing for easier identification of the rack location. Near the workstation, the racks started with the letter A. This was printed on the colour paper, cut to size and folded. Small plastic holders were attached to each rack for the sign.

practical visual controls

Identifying the Shelves

And finally each shelf was allocated a number that is clearly displayed at the end of each shelf.

practical visual management for warehousing

Identifying a Location

Each item stocked on these shelves has a location barcode so the picker can easily scan the barcode for each product picked.

Warehouse Layout

layout with visual controlsAs well as great signage, the warehouse layout is also important when improving picking efficiency. The first row and rack number starts closest to the main workstation, where the picker collects her pick slip. For the second row, the rack lettering started at the far end, so the picker could order their pick slips in row, rack and shelf order, and walk the most efficient pathway while picking. The sketch explains the efficient layout more clearly and shows a sample picker path.

Reducing the path the picker travels when the pick slips are ordered are important in improving warehouse efficiency, and having simple visual controls will support your team.

When starting out on your lean journey, it can be hard to visualise what “best practice” may look like and be able to share that vision with your team. There isn’t always the opportunity to visit other companies like yours in the same industry. We need to be creative in where we source our ideas from. A great place to see key lean principles is at your local Subway; their layout and processes exemplify many of the lean principles we are looking to develop in your company. They include clearly defining customer expectations, defining product flow and being agile with customer demands.

many lean principles are used at Subway

Defining Customer Expectations

Even if you have never walked into a Subway before, you have a pretty good idea of what they are offering; freshly made sandwiches are in their advertising and their branding across the store. If you are looking for something else you know you have come to the wrong place. Each sandwich is made to a customer demand and you can chose from two predetermined sizes; 6” or 12”.

At the store level, first time customers are guided through the sandwich making process. The “pay here” location is clearly marked. We can see where the process (and the queue) begins.  Each station is clearly marked with the choices at each step. There is a decal on the glass with photos of the product range. Firstly choose the type of bread you’d like; here are the choices – white, wholemeal, flat bread and so on. Here are the choices of meats; ham, tuna, chicken and so on. And these offerings are clearly defines at each station.

Subway Process Flow

The first thing I noticed when I entered a Subway for the first time was the single counter, with a clearly marked in and out. Customers could easily figure out where to go and how the process is going to work. Each station is arranged in a logical order; bread, meats, cheese, salads and condiments. Our options at each station are shown on the glass.

When the store is busy, three our four sandwich makers are on the process line. When it’s quiet, there is only one sandwich maker, but the layout and process still works. Handover points occur between the meat and salad sections, so your sandwich is passed along; the sandwich maker then returns to the start of the process and serves he next customer. This creates smaller loops for each operator and reduces the cross over and moving behind others.

During the lunch peak, the ingredient bins are easily changed over when something runs out. Pre-filled bins are in the fridge out the back and replenishment is a simple process. The ingredient bins are in two sizes, where two small ones are the same size as one larger one. The larger ones hold the most popular ingredients like lettuce and ham. Some of the ingredients are set out in pre-prepared serving sizes; one lot for a 6” sub, two lots for a 12” sub. Even when we arrive at the end of the line and prepare to pay, the person at the register places our wrapped sandwich into a bag, already loaded with a serviette. You aren’t asked if you;d like a serviette, they are already in the bag our sandwich is placed in. We are then given our customised sandwich.

Being Agile

Subway has the customised sandwich process in the bag! Don’t want jalapeno? Then ask to leave them out. At each station, the customer can decide which items to include or leave out. Any items that incur an extra cost are displayed on the back wall. Want your sandwiches grilled? Okay! It will get pulled off the line, placed into the grill (at a set temperature with a timer). You get to step back and wait, while the next sandwich is run down the process line. When your sandwich is ready, it returns to the next point in the process and you continue along as before.

Lessons to learn from Subway

  • Clearly defining customer exceptions helps both the customer and you; “Helping the customer help you” is one of the most under utilised principles of Lean (and customer service!)
  • Use your layout to help the customer and operators; defined work stations, handover points and a process that can work with one or more people
  • Consider how each process supply is replenished; use modular supply containers and prepared as mani items as possible

You can now look at your next visit to a Subway with your “lean glasses” on and see their lean principles at work, and see it working for both the customer and team members. Clearly setting customer expectations, having a simple process flow an building in agility can lead to a successful process for all.

Design image
Lean principles can apply equally in a knowledge work environment such as product design

In a manufacturing environment, we can quickly move to a visual display of the work to allow our team to show the status of work. With a worldwide shift from a manufacturing workforce to an economy based more on knowledge work, the structure of the workforce is changing. The interaction of technology with workers’ intellectual and human capital has created a new class of worker in today’s economy – the knowledge worker. Knowledge work deals with the capital that is knowledge. This includes software engineers, physicians, pharmacists, architects, scientists, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and academics whose jobs are to “think for a living”.

Peter Drucker is credited with popularising the term ‘knowledge worker’ as long ago as 1968 (Drucker 1968). Back then he argued, ‘Today the centre is the knowledge worker, the man or woman who applies to productive work ideas, concepts, and information rather than manual skill or brawn…Where the farmer was the backbone of any economy, a century or two ago…knowledge is now the initial cost, the principal investment, and the main product of the advanced economy and the livelihood of the largest group in the population’ (p.264). Even in its basic form the term “knowledge worker” hints at a shift in the nature of some jobs where knowledge – not physical work – is increasingly becoming the core skill required in the future job market.

How Do We Continue Lean Values in a Knowledge Environment?

We start with the essential Lean principle of eliminating waste, which leads us to continuous improvement that drives waste out of a process. One of causes of waste in knowledge work is the time spent each and every day collecting together project status information from each staff is an incredibly wasteful process.

Imagine that you are the lead engineer overseeing 20 build projects with a staff of 10 engineers and detailed draftsman. Every day you are required to be across all of the projects and be able to make critical calls to allocated resources as demands change. Then on top this you need to be checking with three or more different people to be sure that you’ve accomplished everything you need to do for the day. It’s possible to get everything taken care of, but it’s a far cry from efficient — this complicated process introduces waste and slows down your team’s ability to deliver needed value to customer’s projects.

Commonly these projects are controlled by a project schedule or project software that has defined tasks and durations. However, with the rapid change in demand of customer orders and in general needing to deal with shorter and shorter lead-times, it becomes increasingly difficult to plan out projects in detail when compared to the time of just starting the project and working out the detail as needed later on. It is in this environment where a visual management board, also known as a Kanban board, can have a sudden impact on understanding where everyone is at and assist in developing a faster way of reaching a single appreciation of the work in progress.

A Kanban board is a more efficient and less frantic method than having multiple people to contact each day, just to define the current status of the work. A Kanban board displays everything required to make informed decisions including:

1. Which work to prioritise first.
2. Which resource to use next
3. Ability to collect valuable metrics
4. At a glance view the whole workload picture
5. Timing, flow and resource assignments

To grasp the concept of Kanban, there are several fundamental Lean principles built into a Kanban board that support how a team can practice and build upon continuous improvement cycles.

We will discuss the importance of understanding your entire value stream, the creating knowledge process and being respectful towards the people involved.

Seeing the Whole Value Stream

Within Lean, “Seeing the Whole” is a key concept for understanding the entire value stream. It can be challenging to have a single and shared view of what the team is facing. It is also problematic to track the entire team’s capacity when you have to go and interpret what each team member is working on. These interactions through the day are not the best use of your time or theirs. Visual management is essential to managing a team’s work in progress and display all the activities in one place.

Create Knowledge

If you only work within the functions of your role within a company, you’re missing an important opportunity to cross-train yourself and those in your team. It is amazing what a set of fresh eyes can bring to solving a problem or a task that is falling behind. It happens so many times that after collaborating with a co-worker, a solution can be found to progress the work or aid in selecting the right solution. Every time this happens is an opportunity to grow — by hearing new ideas and understanding new perspectives for the team and yourself.

It is equally valuable to see the work that someone else is doing. Visibility of the work provides the opportunity to help your team deliver value faster. By keeping individual projects separate from each other, the opportunities to focus on both little and large problems across all projects as a whole is hidden.

With a kanban board setup, when a concern arises, the team can see the issue on the board and can immediately start to develop a shared response and begin working towards a solution together. Often this will happen automatically soon after the kanban board is working with deadlines, metrics and schedule information. All of these visual information triggers the sharing of information leading towards new ideas and help to progress the problem towards a conclusion. Therefore it is important to have the information displayed to the team as without being able to visualise that there is a problem first, the ability to focus the team together is lost. Without these visualisation techniques of the Kanban board, it can be difficult to see how all work is connected.

Being Respectful Towards the People

Wasting someone’s time is most disrespectful, and we do this sometimes unintentionally with running a simple team status meeting to provide information. Many of these status meetings go around the room, as each team member reports information on their tasks. While it is important to have a say most of the attendees are disinterested in most of what is being said, while the others wait for their turn to talk.

As a result in these type of meeting we are, in fact not talking to each other – we were talking at each other. The meeting is missing the opportunity to improve the quality of the meeting itself and to remove obstacles out of each other’s way so the projects can get done.

If we cannot improve the quality of our communication, it becomes a much harder task to improve the quality of our work. Finding out that you are always on a different page from your team can be frustrating. In the end, miscommunications result in complexity, frustration, and increasing anxiety levels. As Deming said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” [February 1993 Deming Four Day seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.]

How do Kanban Boards Assist?

Having a single Kanban board allows a team to visualise the entire process and enables more time in the meeting to focus on the essential aspect of work such as deadlines, changes in priorities or arising concerns. Then at the daily team meeting, we can create a single point meeting that addresses communication problems by having to speak to each person and many people prefer visual information because it is quicker to process.

The daily team standup meeting is around 10 minutes duration to cover project status, metrics, task assignments and problem-solving. Most of this discussion ends up eliminating the need for lengthy status meetings and long emails.

Creating a Kanban Board

To get started, refer to “Personal Kanban Mapping work” by Jim Benson, 2011. It is a great starting point into the “World of Post-It-Notes” and how to organise work tasks. Then just do it by developing a mockup to test the visualising of workflow steps needed to progress the work.

Once the mockup is ready, put it to work and test it out in the real world Refine by understanding “What works well?” and “What is needed?” to support Kanban.

In conclusion, as work transitions towards knowledge work, visualising the tasks and priorities for our team is more important than it has ever been. When you begin to define your visual management or Kanban board, you need to understand how adding value is created in your processes, understanding how you collect your company knowledge and ensure you continue to respect your people’s abilities and skills. Then you and your team can trial your mockup Kanban board and daily meetings, and to continuously improve your processes of managing your knowledge work.

We recently reviewed our online analytical data to find out what video content really connects with our online audience. It reminded me of some of the great content that we have shared over the past few years. Here are the top five Lean videos that we have shared, based on their online popularity.

#1: What is Lean – Employee Engagement – Justin Time Episode 1

Thumbnail for Justin Time 1What is Lean? Looking for a simple introduction to what lean manufacturing means for your office or factory? In this great little animation, JoLean is an average worker with average problems. So how can you engage your team and employees like JoLean to embrace change? In this video, the first of our “Justin Time” series, lean coach Justin shows JoLean and her managers how Lean can transform their workday and deliver real results for the business. View the Video

#2: TXM Lean Minute – Red-Green Task Boards (Kamishibai)

Visual Management in a Lean EnterpriseThe challenge with 5S is sustaining the improvement. A big part of sustaining is making sure that people do their routine cleaning and maintenance tasks every day. In this Lean Minute, TXM Consulting Director Anthony Clyne talks about Red-Green Task Boards (also known as Kamishibai Boards). This is a great visual tool to help make sure that everyday tasks in your workplace get done. View the Video


#3: TXM Lean Minute – How to Design Effective Visual Management Boards to Drive Improved Business Performance

Visual Management Board ExampleIf takt time is the heart of lean production, visual management represents the nervous system in lean management. Visual management is an indispensable tool when we implement Lean. It helps the other lean tools become more powerful by making their impact on the business visual. In this Lean Minute video, TXM China Consulting Director, Justin Tao, explains how to design and effective Visual Management Board. View the video


#4: Daily Standup Meetings are Not Just for the Factory

Daily Standup meetings for support teamsMany businesses have found that having quick daily stand up meetings around a visual management board is an excellent way to engage shop floor teams in improving business performance. In this Lean Minute video, Michelle Brown explains how daily “stand up” meetings and visual management boards can be just as valuable for office teams as they are in the factory, warehouse or workshop. View the Video


#5: TXM Lean Minute Video – The “I to U” of Lean Plant Layout

LEan Plant LayoutThere are lots of different ways you can layout your plant. Lean Plant Layouts can include I, L, O, S and U shapes. In this TXM Lean Minute, Anthony Clyne discusses how an S-shaped Lean Plant Layout works effectively for long products, such as Sykes rowing boats. View the Video

Companies that are just beginning their lean journey will often talk about the company culture they would like to instill into their organization. For some companies this dream is going to take more work and time than with others. Today we will look at the “Maslow’s Hierarchy” of Continuous Improvement that is needed to create a Lean culture where continuous improvement and innovation are part of the fabric of the company.

Getting the Basics Right First

Before we can expect our people to provide input into continuous improvement and innovation, we need to get the basics right first. Our team need to have a feeling of trust and security that they will continue to have a job. Their work environment needs to be safe, for both our physical and mental health, and checking our teams aren’t being overburdened.

innovation in Lean implementation

Secondly the team need to have the basics skills to complete their assigned tasks, with the right level of quality. Materials supply and having the tools required to complete the assigned tasks are also part of the basic elements that are required.

Thirdly, each team needs to be involved in the daily communication of how the business is going. Daily meetings and visual control board, with QCDSM metrics , are fundamental aspects of this communication. It helps each person feel they are part of a team, and their team is a part of the larger organization.

If any of these three fundamentals are missing, they are the first elements that need to be fixed to ensure stability in the workplace. At TXM, we strongly urge all of our clients to work with cross functional teams during the lean journey to assist with building trust and improving the company culture. We understand that we can’t shut down your entire business for days to discuss improvements, so its important to have representatives to take part if these discussion. then a good communication plan is needed so the representatives have a lean process for communicating to their teams.

To build in safety and organization, Practical 5S implementation alongside value stream mapping will help our teams determine what their work space looks like and what tools and materials are needed at different stages of a build or assembly. The 5s mantra of “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” needs to be visible at every desk and work bench.

Lean daily leadership and visual management are the third element which will support your team leaders to effectively communicate with their teams. Over time, daily meetings across each shift are put into place to ensure every person i your company has a forum to hear what’s going on and be able to offer an opinion. The visual boards also assist by displaying the important informaiton discussed where our team can review and consider the information in their own way.

Once these elements are in place and being sustained, you will have the basics in place for building a continuous improvement culture.

The Heady Heights of a Continuous Improvement Culture

Creating a culture of continuous improvement can seem like a pipe dream when you are beginning on your lean journey, but it is achievable. Like any other cultural change, it takes time, patience and a willingness to do what it takes to get there.

Once the basics are in place and your business is reasonably stable (leadership turnover minimized, no new capital equipment or software changes on the horizon) you are ready to take the next step with developing the continuous improvement skills in the team. Set goals to help drive the need and communicate the urgency. Set aside time for the team to discuss continuous improvement in their area. Be patient; initial ideas may be small and seem inconsequential but you need to start with small improvements that your team initiated to build trust and “Stress test” your support team’s ability to assist with the implementation of these improvements. Show your team you are willing to listen and act on their ideas. This will improve the trust and confirm to people you will take their ideas and concerns seriously.

Be a good coach, as well as a manager; ask questions, understand the underlying issues and help your team work through their challenges. Set aside the “Mr Fix-It” mentality of trying to be the one who knows everything and how to fix everything. Instead, be curious and see what your team can come up with. Provide a framework which may include money that can be spent (or not; having little move can help creativity) and a timeframe to develop ideas and implement them.

Over time your team will get better at looking at their work area and tasks, and begin to see the opportunities that are there. Often these are in the form on things that annoy them, but that is part of the stability phase.

To reach the ultimate innovation stage, your continuous improvement needs to have a proven track record, which shows patience and trust, in addition to examples of gains made through the implementation of continuous improvement ideas.

Assessing Your Current Situation

So where are you currently? Gather your leadership team and have an open discussion to determine where you currently sit in the “Maslow’s Hierarchy” of Continuous Improvement, then determine where you’d like to be in 6 to 12 months. TXM can help facilitate these sessions, as well as helping to create a plan to achieve your goals.

Work on the three foundation levels of stability first and get your people involved in the Lean journey; build the understanding of your vision and their part in it. Take the time to be visible and talk with your team. Check your listening habits and make sure you are open to suggestions, not jumping to shut people down, or proving they are “wrong”.

The forum of your team’s daily meetings then becomes the logical place to introduce daily problem solving which provides a framework for the beginnings of continuous improvement. Once this gets some momentum, you will begin to see who has the ability to take the next step. They can then be involved in higher level discussions to begin to look for true innovation within your workplace.

Good luck!

What Are Metrics and How Do You Define Them?

Metrics are a key ingredient for improved communication in a visual Lean workplace and are essential for good Lean Daily Leadership (LDLP) Whether you are well established in using daily metrics, or just starting to set up your visual management board, it’s important to review your metrics to make sure they are still supporting your goals; remember, measuring data without action is waste! Here we will look into different types of metrics that may be suitable to support you, and discuss the importance of understanding which metrics are leading and which are lagging, and how to determine a balance between the two.

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Important Metrics For Your Visual Management Board

At TXM we insist you cover the basic metrics for your visual control board (also called a Production board) The metrics need to support the key factors that influence our business – Cost, Quality, Delivery, Safely and Morale. The order of these five parameters, and the importance you place on them will depend on your industry, as well as your maturity along our Lean journey. In many workplaces, Quality and Safety will be considered the top priority to review each shift, with the other three following close behind. The order your company prefers is not as important as checking that all five are represented. The important issue is that each is given due consideration and included in the agenda for the daily review each shift.

Example of Visual Management Board
Well presented visual management boards are functional and efficient. Providing all relevant information within a 31 second scan.

When initially determining your team metrics, there isn’t a perfect formula to guarantee success. Choose simple metrics that are meaningful to your team. Aim for metrics that can be easily measured. We prefer items that can be counted, for example, the number of widgets completed this shift, over ratios or percentages. Also we prefer to avoid metrics that require data to be delivered from other departments, managers or retrieved from a computer system. Ownership of the metrics will increase when your cell leader can get the needed information and then update the graph at at time that suits them.

Sometimes we are asked about using computer screen to display visual controls. We prefer to keep it simple and in the control of the team by using paper graphs or graphs on a whiteboard. The act of gathering the data and filling in a graph gives the team control and ownership, and this makes the metrics meaningful to the team.

As your team continues to improve your metrics will need to be reviewed to determine if they are still meaningful and aligned with the goals of each area. If the current metrics still help the team meet it’s goes each shift, then they can stay. If the metrics are no longer helping the team, it is time to change them to a metric that is more meaningful.

What Is the Difference Between Lead and Lag Metrics?

As we have discussed the overall importance of metrics, we can now focus on understanding whether our metrics are lead or lag metrics. A lag metrics is one that focusses on past performance, indicating where we have been or what has been completed over a period of time. Leading metrics are ones that show us the factors that can then influence our process and are based around input metrics.

Lag metrics are easy to measure, for example, how many widgets have we completed this shift? But lag metrics are hard to influence due to the complexity of our processes and the many inputs that are needed to complete our work.

By contract, lead metrics are harder to measure but are easier to influence, and we can figure out the best ones to monitor to ensure out outcomes are on track.

Here are some examples of lead and lag metrics for the key factors of Cost, Quality, Delivery, Safely and Morale

Lead Lag Metrics Table

Balancing Between Lead and Lag Metrics

When you review your daily metrics for each area, how do they look? Do you have an equal number of leading and lagging metrics? It is important to have a balance as the lagging metrics provide an overview of how the business is going, while the leading metrics give us an indication of how individual processes are performing. Understanding your processes and value streams will help you see where the leading metrics fit and how they can help to influence your lagging metrics.

TXM Article: Five Tips to Designing an Effective Team Visual Management Board

Getting the metrics right for your production control boards in an important part of implementing visual controls in a Lean workplace. Check you have a metric to cover the five key business factors of Cost, Quality, Delivery, Safely and Morale. Then review the metrics to make sure you have a balance of lead and lag metrics, and that the metrics support your team in achieving their goals each shift.