Kaizen in plain English

Kaizen or continuous improvement is a buzz word these days. But what is it? Is it something complex? No, not at all. I am trying to explain it in the simplest possible way today.

If you do not improve what you are doing, your competition will pass you sooner or later. So it is a given that any organization should improve themselves. But how an organization should do this?

Continuous improvement suggests you systematically improve on things you are currently doing. This will, over a period of time, allow you to take your organization forward. It is like a wheel which turns little by little, but continuously, which takes the organization forward.

Lean organization plans the way forward, act based on the plan, doing improvements to the system. Then they check the output against the expected results. Then they act according to the outcome. If the outcome is not aligned with the expected outcome, corrective actions will be taken. In any case the cycle will continue driving the organization forward in the correct direction.

Probably the main difference between traditional programs of innovation and Kaizen activity is the ability to check and correct the course on the go. This is possible because unlike other programs, Kaizen happens in small steps. You can measure the results after every step and you will be able to correct the changes after every step. This will make sure not only you are going forward, but you are going in the correct direction, which is very important.

Any tool we associate with lean can be a Kaizen tool too, when applied with the Kaizen mindset. This is true for a strategic level tool like Hoshin Charts or a simple cause and effect diagram.

Kaizen tells organizations to improve at a steady phase, but continuously, which is a guaranteed formula for winning.

TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) as a waste elimination tool

Today we discuss about Total productive maintenance(TPM) as a waste elimination tool.

TPM defined as TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) is a maintenance philosophy designed to integrate equipment maintenance into the manufacturing process.

The goal of any TPM program is to eliminate losses tied to equipment maintenance or, in other words, keep equipment producing only good product, as fast as possible with no unplanned downtime. The unique feature of TPM is Autonomous Maintenance.

Autonomous Maintenance defined as Machine adjustments made by their operators who are deemed to have unique knowledge about the machines. It is a principal component of total productivity maintenance (TPM).

In TPM mainly focus 16 losses and eliminate from the process.16 losses’ are:

A Seven major losses that impede overall equipment efficiency

1 Failure losses (Breakdown)
       Losses due to failures. Types of failures include sporadic function-stopping failures, and function-reduction failures in which the function of the equipment drops below
Normal levels.

2 Set up and adjustment losses
Stoppage losses that accompany set-up changeovers

3 Cutting blade change losses
 Stoppage losses caused by changing the cutting blade due to breakage, or caused by changing the cutting blade when the service life of the grinding stone, cutter or bite has been reached.

4 Start-up losses
 When starting production, the losses that arise until equipment start-up, running-in and production processing conditions stabilize.

5 Minor stoppage and idling losses
Losses that occur when the equipment temporarily stops or idles due to sensor actuation or jamming of the work.  The equipment will operate normally through simple measures (removal of the work and resetting).

6 Speed losses
Losses due to actual operating speed falling below the designed speed of the equipment.

7 Defect & rework loss
 Losses due to defects & reworking.
 Losses that impede equipment loading time

8 Shutdown (SD) losses
 Losses that arise from planned equipment stoppages at the production planning level in order to perform periodic inspection and statutory inspection.

Five Major losses that impede workers efficiency

9 Management losses
 Waiting losses that are caused by management, such as waiting for materials, waiting for a dolly, waiting for tools, waiting for instructions etc.

10 Motion losses
 Man-hour losses arising from differences in skills involved in etc.

11 Line organization losses
 Idle time losses when waiting for multiple processes or multiple platforms.

12 Distribution losses
 Distribution man-hour losses due to transport of materials, products (processed products) and dollies.

13 Measurement and  adjustment losses
Work losses from frequent measurement and adjustment in order to prevent the occurrence and outflow of quality defects.

Three major losses that impede efficient use of production subsidiary resources

14 Energy losses
 Losses due to ineffective utilization of input energy (electric, gas, fuel oil, etc) in processing.

15 Die, jig and tool losses
 Financial losses (expenses incurred in production, regarding renitriding, etc.) which occur with production or repairs of dies, jigs and tolls due to aging beyond services life or breakage.

16 Yield losses
 Material losses due to differences in the weight of the input materials and the weight of the quality products.

Lean Tools For Apparel Industry

We have discussed many lean tools in our lean tools series. This post by our guest consultant is about the lean tools in apparel industry. Read On…

“Eight Lean Tools” defined as waste elimination tools. With lean manufacturing we mainly focus on waste. Waste defined as “Anything that adds Cost to the product without adding Value”.

Total productive Maintenance:

“The Combination of Best features between Productive & Predictive Maintenance by innovative Management strategies With total employee Involvement.”

5s :

“Through sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain create better workplace organization”.

Visual factory:

“The use of controls that enable an individual to immediately recognize the standard and any deviation from it”.

Standardized Work Process:

“It is the current agreed upon best method to complete the work in a process.”

Quick changeover:

“Team-based improvement activity that significantly reduces setup and changeover time.”


“A signal, usually a card, used to signal the movement or production of materials.”

Error Proofing:

“The prevention of making errors, which would result in defects and lost time.”

Problem solving:

“Using the systematic problem solving tool to sort out problem.”

Workload/Line balancing:

“Through balance workload among work station creates Continues flow.”

We will discuss each of these tools in detail in the future posts.

Lean for Apparel Industry – Part II

Thanks for the marvelous response for the last post on lean for apparel industry. Today, our lean apparel consultant is sharing a story with us. I found it really informative. I removed some names from the post to keep the contributors out of trouble. Please read and leave your comments. If you like the post let us know by clicking on the “Like Button” to the end of the post. 

A Journey from Responsibility to Passion (Story of a Planning Executive)

Before 5S, my work station was a mess. The situation was the same with my colleagues, where everyone was too busy to even think of 5S. As the Planning department we did not have much documents lying around us as in Finance and Merchandising departments, but even the little amount of documents we had were not organized. I found comfort in my own mess because I wasn’t ready to worry my head over organizing my stuff. It was difficult locating my pen, phone, Air freight forms in my own messed up work station and I spend half of the time shouting at others looking for my stuff in their work stations while it was still lying at mines.
So what changed me? To be honest, it was the news that put whole  front end departments on fire, ‘Front-End Lean Audit’. And without even my knowledge I was a member of the team which was nominated to play the lead role in implementing lean in the planning department. I was inspired and enthusiastic about my new responsibility and coincidently I was in charge of implementing 5S.
Things weren’t moving smoothly at first and I was at the risk of losing my interest about Lean. But as the dates closed in, the whole department put their heads together and drew up an action plan setting time lines to continue with each pillar of Lean. This ignited the little fire in me and under the supportive guidance of our ‘5S Guru G’ we set to work. For the first time I opened some of the ‘never explored’ cupboards in our department to witness horrifying scenes. Some contained life stories of our department stacked in and piled up. It was fun cleaning up the mess going through all the fun stuff the place held. Once everything was sorted it was just a matter of getting rid of the unwanted stuff and putting the wanted stuff in an organized manner with accordance to 5S standards.
5S is no longer a mere responsibility forced upon me, but is a passion in my life. My colleagues and bosses are also passionate about it and I consider building up that passion and changing their mindset the greatest achievement of my Lean journey. It was true we had our own little arguments, contradictory decisions throughout our journey but it was just a matter conducting proper discussions to listen to others and extract the best of their ideas.
Now the things have changed. We are entering a new world every morning where everything’s organized, clean and feels great to look at. My colleagues feel more responsible towards their own work stations and proud to see people from other departments using our department as their benchmark 5S area. Now it doesn’t take much time to locate my pen, phone and documents. It’s just a matter of identifying the need. No time is spent on searching for things now.
Wrapping things up, let me tell you that changing was hard, but the change was superb. Once changed, it will be your life’s passion; it will be your life’s discipline. So, change to feel it. Good luck! 

Andon, Bring problems into light

Lean encourages and systemizes the process of unhiding and solving problems. There are many tools like 5S, visual factory in place to make sure wastes are unhidden and bought to spotlight. Sometimes the problem itself provides the trigger to start the problem solving action. For an example, if the inventory is piling up in one place, higher inventory on the work floor itself will catch the attention and will initiate the problem solving process. But on the other hand, there can be some instances where when you find a problem, quality or process related, you have to pass a signal to the respective people. For an example, if your machine is not functioning properly, you will have to convey that message to the mechanical or technical divisions to get it sorted. This is where Andon signals come to play.
Main purpose of Andon is getting attention to the problem. Common practice is to use a light (In Red most of the cases). When there is a problem in a particular area, user will switch that light on. This will trigger the problem solving process. Sometimes, lights are combined with a sound making device (like a siren) to get the message out. These devices can be arranged in different formations like Andon boards or as work cell Andons.
Some times Andon signal can tell in particular whose attention is required, while sometimes it can just convey the message “Attention Required”. For an example when there is a problem with a machine, the person who is reporting the error will be able to direct the problem to engineering department by selecting the relevant button. But if that person is not sure of who should be informed, he might just put up a common problem indicator so that supervisor or the team leader will be able to work to solve the problem.
Andon can be built into machinery and other equipments as well. For an example, if your machine is overheated, there can be an Andon signal to indicate that to you. This can act as a problem prevention or PokaYoke as well.
Although the common practice is to use lights, there are very high end solutions like computer integrated systems. They serve the same purpose, but the observers can get information from one screen. There can be very simple solutions on the other hand. For an example hanging a red colored card can serve the same purpose. Id doesn’t matter what is the mechanism you are using, as far as you can send the message across.
Andon is a critical part of visual factory concept. Mostly used with other tools like 5S, Poka Yoke, and work cells.

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Go and See for Yourself – Genji Gembutsu (Genchi Genbutusu)

We have discussed 20 lean tools so far. One of the main features of all these tools is their simplicity. Starting from 5S, lean tools are very simple and effective. Our tool today, you would agree, is a great example for this.
“Gengi Gembutsu” is one of very popular lean tools. It is discussed in many forums, by professionals. But what really is this tool? What is meant to do?
“Gengi Gembutsu” reduces time taken to complete your decision making process. It makes it easy to make the correct decision. How this tool does this? By taking the decision makers to the problem, and letting them to observe the problems and then coming to decision. It seems very simple isn’t it?
When you have a problem in your hand, how do you solve them? In a traditional organization, managers will ask all the relevant parties to come to his or her room. He will go through all the reports and figures. Then he will discuss with all the relevant parties and then will make a decision. This is not a bad way of making a decision, isn’t it? But the problem is, when the facts and figures are reformatted by different people, the true meaning of them can get distorted. Sometimes important information might be left out on purpose or by accident. This way of problem solving encourages figure pointing and blame passing. So at the end of the process there can be a wrong decision made, if a decision is made at all.
Lean encourages hands on way of problem solving. Even the managers are bought to the place where problem occurred. So they get the real picture and real information about the situation. Then they can discuss with the people directly involved on the process. Then the decision made will be much more accurate.
Can you remember last time you made a decision based on second hand information and later found problem is completely misinterpreted and your decision made it even worse? If something comes to your mind please leave it as a comment to this post. It will help all the people want to learn lean.
So next time, when you have a problem to solve, go to the place where problem occurred, check the process for yourself and then make your decision. Check for the improvement of the quality of your decision.

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Jidoka – Automation with a human touch

Jidoka is one of the main tools of lean. In fact it is treated as one of the main pillars of lean manufacturing. Although Jidoka is very important tool, as most of lean tools it stays simple both to understand and practice.

Jidoka is often explained as “Automation with a human touch”. In other words this means automation with some degree of human involvement. When your machinery runs normally and processes are being followed properly, there is nothing you should worry about. But if your processes and machinery are not producing expected results, and if it continues to run, you have a problem in your hand. You will end up with tons of faulty goods.
This is where the concept of Jidoka comes to play. If there is something wrong in your operation, Jidoka suggests you to stop immediately and then fix the problem before start running your process gain. This will ensure you remove the problem from the process so you will not be making piles of faulty items.
Roots of Jidoka traces back to the early automated loom developments. When the looms were automated there was a major problem. When the yarn is broken, entire length of the woven fabric will have a defect. This is very costly. So you have to identify the problem (broken yarn) immediately and stop the loom to fix the problem to avoid this issue. This is where error detection techniques and automatic stopping devices were introduced. When you have a thread broken, there will be a mechanism to identify the error, and it will automatically stop the machine. This will alert the operator. He will come to the machine, fix the problem and then re start the machine. Although today there are new technologies is available to detect problems easily still the same old concept is followed. You identify the problem immediately; you stop the process and fix it.
Later concept of Jidoka was applied on the processes like assembly lines. When an operator detects an error, they will try solving it themselves. If they cannot correct it themselves, they will call their immediate boss, line supervisor for an example. If the supervisor can solve the issue within an allocated limit of time, line will not be stopped. If the supervisor cannot complete the job within the given amount of time, line will be stopped. Error will be fixed and the line will be re started.
Jidoka is often used with Poka Yoke and Visual control concepts. Visual indicators are used to highlight the errors and Pokayoke is practiced to avoid the identified problems in future.
Jidoka makes it very hard to hide problems. When you stop the line, you create a crisis. If you have no solution to the problem, you will not be able to continue with manufacturing. So solving problems becomes a must.
Although it is simple enough to understand and implement, for an organization to come to the point of Jidoka implementation it take some change. Implementing Jidoka calls for a complete shift in traditional management mentality. Traditionally, stopping the manufacturing line is treated as a crime, something you should not do at all. People are encouraged to continue the work regardless of the problems which may come through.
So changing the mentality will not be easy. This will be the main problem associated with implementing Jidoka in your organization.

What is Hoshin Kanri?

Before starting on hosin kanri let me tell you something. I am sure most of you have an eye on Toyota right now. Father of lean manufacturing is in trouble. Last week’s article on Toyota crisis and its relationship to lean has bought lots of responses. Most of the readers have emailed me their thoughts. I learnt through them, most of you do not blame lean for the problems Toyota have in their hands right now. If you haven’t read it already read the article by clicking the link above. Please leave your comments at the end of the article for the entire world will be able to see it.
Now back to the topic. Every organization exists for a reason. One of the main reasons is to earn profits. There can be other reasons for existence as well. On the other hand every organization has their resources like capital, organizational structures, processes, and people. You may be a follower of lean or not, but I am sure you will agree with me, it is very difficult to align all your resources to achieve what you want to achieve, especially when your organization is larger. If you are working with only handful amount of people it is mighty easy to achieve your goals. You can see each other working. You have a direct control. But when your organization is large, you will have different clusters, departments and divisions etc, etc. there will be hundreds or even thousands of people who are working for you to achieve your goals. Everyone needs to be pulling in same direction in order for you to achieve your goals effectively. But I am sure you would know, it is not easy as it sounds.
Only very few people in an organization would be aware of the goals of the organization. Even if they know it only a handful would know how your organization is going to achieve them, or your strategies. Even if they know how they are going to be achieved, most of you will not know what is the part you will have to play in order to achieve your organization goals. Sounds familiar isn’t it. Best part is, even if you know what you want to achieve, you wouldn’t know how you, yourself and others are going to measure it.
So every organization has to answer few questions when they set up their goals and cascade them down the chain.
1. What is our goal? For an example “we want to be the #1 car manufacturer in the world”
2. How are we going to achieve our goal? For an example “we want to sell x million units of cars to become the #1 car manufacturer of the world”
3. What do we want to achieve the target? For an example “We are going to manufacturer the world’s lowest cost car so that everyone can afford it”
4. How are we going to measure whether we achieved our objective? For an example “Have sold y number of cars in this year as per our plan”
There may be several answers for the questions above depending on the goal you may set. But I guess you get the idea.
As you can see, setting the goals and cascading them down one step is hard enough. How about cascading your goals to thousands of employees. It will not be easy. But this is where Hoshin Kanri comes to play.
Hoshin Kanri is a very important tool used in lean environment. It is known as a good policy deployment tool. It basically systemizes the process of passing information level by level so that all the components of your organization would be completely aligned to the overall goals of your organization.
Every department will have their objective set by the Hoshin plan for their organization. Every sub divisions of the department will have their objectives set based on the goals their departments need to achieve. It will cascade down to the employee, and will clearly tell your employee what he or she has to do in order to achieve the goals of your organization. Isn’t this cool?
Again it needs to be said however, this process is not easy either. It requires mindset changes, thorough follow up and dedication. No one is 100% in this regard. But there is no need to be 100% in your hoshin efforts to realize its benefits. You may realize it on the go.

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Lean and Six Sigma

Whenever a process occurs, whether it is manufacturing a computer chip, drilling a hole in a piece of wood, or filing a piece of paper, there is a variance between the target value and what actually happens. When taken over a period of time or scaled on a large scale over many products, this variation causes problems with the end product. If a component of a product does not meet the required specifications, then it is naive to think that the product itself will function in the required capacity.

Six sigma is the strategy concerned with reducing the amount of variation concerned with completing a process on a repeated basis, so that the overall product can function at a level that is acceptable to the customer. It is also the practice of constant improvement by identifying defects that can be brought under control in order to improve the functionality of the end product. While it may seem like six sigma is a highly technical skill, in reality it is used in many different sectors. It is not uncommon to see six sigma practices implemented into marketing, sales, and customer support organizations as well.

Initially created and implemented by Motorola, most companies have implemented some sort of version of a six sigma program in most of their departments. There are some companies that even require all personnel to be trained in six sigma implementations and policies. It uses statistical methods integrated with quality and lean processes to measure the possible and recognized improvement in the process. If implemented properly, entire teams and sub organizational structures (i.e. black belts, green belts, etc) are implemented to guide personnel in the proper conduct of the six sigma process and bringing the culture to the workplace successfully.

The idea behind six sigma is revealed in the name of the process… through identification of sources of variation and cost, teams are formed to find what the sources are, and then the variation is measured and plotted. It is then analyzed to see if there are other, uncontrollable aspects of the data that may be effecting the way that the parameter is measured.

All of these are taken into consideration, and then the corrective action that is supposed to bring the process to within six sigma of the target value is implemented, or in other words, the process is improved. Over time, the process is conducted with the corrective action in place, and the parameter, once again, is measured.

This measurement is plotted, just as it was prior to the corrective action implementation, and the corrective action is analyzed for its effectiveness. The team then discusses what actions can be implemented to ensure the quality improvements are maintained and the progress is not lost by a lack of control over the corrective action.

The beauty of six sigma is that it can be used in any application, in any business, at any time. As stated before, there are plenty of documented case studies that show how six sigma can be effectively used inside of everything from sales and marketing to very complex manufacturing procedures. With the proper training and teams in place, the sky is the limit with regards to the amount of improvement an organization can realize by implementing the six sigma infrastructure. Six Sigma Explained

As can be seen in Figure (1), there are five basic steps to completing a six sigma project. The first is “Define”, in which the parameter in that will be the focus of the project is identified. Additionally, the impact to the bottom line of the business is discussed and the potential savings is measured. It is at this point in which the company will decide whether or not to pursue further action in the improvement of the parameter, and whether the time and funding spent toward the improvement will pay off in the end.

Next, the parameter is measured in the “Measure” phase. Statistic relevance is taken into consideration as well as other sources of variation such as gage error. It is determined how well the actual parameter can be brought under control by measuring it with respect to the sigma value of a normally distributed curve.

Take, for example, a process that has 1000 opportunities for a defect. Of these opportunities, 2 defects emerge. This obviously means the process has .002 DPO, or defects per opportunity. From that, we can figure out what our DPMO, or defects per million opportunities. To do this, we simply multiply the DPO x 1 million. Our process has a level of 2,000 DPMO. This means that for every million pieces of this product we produce, 2,000 of them will be defective.

From the DPMO and our DPMO/σ table, we find that our σ value is 4.37. By looking at Figure (2), you can interpret this to mean that you will have a 99.73% chance of having between 1,987 (-3σ) and 2,014 (+3 σ) defects for every 1,000,000 parts produced.

Six Sigma Curve

Figure (2)

Once this is completed, the team comes together and analyzes the data in the “Analyze” phase. If the previous two phases were correctly conducted, it will show where the greatest room for improvement exists, and the corrective actions are identified with the estimated improvement calculated.

Improvement is measured after the corrective action is implemented in the “Improve” phase. This phase is almost identical to the “Measure” phase, but more strong influence is placed on the corrective action’s impact on the final parameter variations.

Finally, the last stage is “Control”, in which the corrective action is either modified or changed such that a long term realization of improvement is shown. Many times the corrective action is temporary in nature and must be modified to be able to sustain the improvement.

While anyone can be taught to brainstorm and start six sigma projects, it should be noted that without a focused and well trained team, there is a very large possibility for failure inside of the six sigma project. It is recommended that a dedicated team be placed in charge of every project and assist the champion in making the project run smoothly.

Six sigma has been proven to set companies apart from each other with its effectiveness. It is practiced in almost every major corporation and almost always results in a better, leaner, and more proficient company.

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5 Why? Simple but effective lean tool

Just like any good mechanic, a good lean expert should have many tools to help them do their job. While a mechanic may be fixing something under the hood of a car, a lean expert will be fixing something under the hood of a business. Unlike a mechanic’s troubleshooting, sometimes the real reason why something is not functioning inside a business isn’t readily apparent, and there isn’t a manual to troubleshoot it. Additionally, it may be masked by other problems that appear to be the real reason, or “root cause”, when in truth, it is only a diversion.

Avoiding this is a very important job of all people who work in a company, primarily a lean expert, or someone who works on the quality team. There are many ways in which the quality team can approach the problem, and the 5 why technique is one of them. It is designed to help get to the real root cause of a problem, so the cause can be addressed through a short term or long term corrective action. The corrective action, then, can be tracked for its effectiveness.

The 5 why system is one in which the simple question “why?” is asked at 5 different levels of a problem to get to the bottom of the situation. It was first used in the early 1970’s by the Toyota Company, who is often credited with being the pioneer of modern quality.

If used correctly, it can provide a way to help identify the true root cause of the problem by using a feedback system. An added benefit is that it can be used both on an individual basis as well as a part of a group attack. It can, and should, also be integrated into the Kaizen, lean, and Six Sigma methods.

It can also be used in conjunction with other tools, such as root cause analysis software and fishbone diagrams to help aid in the discovery of the true root cause and identifying the cause and effect associated with it. While some other root cause analysis tools are complex and require experts to run them, even a two year old knows how to ask the question “why”, so the much more simplified approach is easy to adopt to the level of each individual worker.

Of course, it may seem like the five why method is too good to be true: a simple, effective way to approach complex technical issues that anyone can apply? This is the exact argument that most “five why” critics have used against the system: it is not as effective as thought.

The biggest argument is that, while it is purported to get to the foundation of the problem, in reality, most people stop at the surface level symptomatic issues that appear to be plaguing them on a daily basis. By asking the question “why?”, most will simply come up with another symptom instead of working their way back to the root cause. They will then fix the additional symptom, proclaiming to have found and corrected the root cause, when in fact the problem they were trying to solve never actually is fixed.

Another pitfall that the critics of this system claim detracts from its effectiveness is the tendency for personnel to stop at their level of knowledge or comfort, instead of digging deeper and thoroughly investigating the limits of their technical knowledge. It is too easy for the “five why” method to reward and promote the “quick fix” answer of simply satisfying the question “why”, instead of more thoroughly finding a technical answer.

Lastly, while simplicity is one of the merits of the system, it is also purported to be one of the downfalls. Because anybody can conduct the five why method, they actually do, and do not seek professional assistance in determining whether the “why” they submit is a true, actual “why” and not a surface level quick fix.

Lean Tools Series - 5 why technique

Figure (1)

Figure (1) illustrates the typical conduct of solving the answer “why does the pump leak”. As can be seen, it addresses the fact that the seal inside of the pump bell housing is leaking fluid. While many companies and employees would stop there, instead, this technique requires the champion to go much further and address the reason why the seal leaks.

Of course, there can be more than one “why” to every reason, as demonstrated by Figure (1). The seal could leak because of improper installation of the seal, or possibly an inadequate seal design. Each one of those has their own “why” branches, which address the more subsurface issue causing the “why” before it.

As stated earlier, anyone can use this method. However, care and consideration should be taken to at least fully train the personnel who will be in charge of leading the five why inquisition, as it is very easy to scratch the surface of the challenge and never actually dig to the subsurface root causes.

The 5 why technique is a great tool when used in conjunction with other tools as an aide in finding the root cause of a problem. Like any other tool, it should be wielded by someone who understands how to thoroughly investigate problems and conduct a solid root cause analysis.