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By Barry Jeffrey, Apr 15 2015 07:12AM

Here’s a good exercise to help a group challenge their normal thinking and help them explore the concept of thinking outside the box.

Boiling water in a paper cup. At first thought, it sounds impossible, but let’s have a go.

First, fill the paper cup with water. No special preparation is required. The water doesn't have to coat the outside, and you don't have to expose only the wet parts of the cup to heat. Just fill a paper cup with water and start heating the cup from the outside with a blowtorch or something similar. After a short while, the water will boil vigorously inside the cup, but the paper cup itself, will not combust.

Why we can do this.

Paper burns at around 260 °C (500 °F) but water boils at a mere 100 °C (212 °F). This means that when the flames heat the paper to above 100 °C, the water nearby turns to vapor and steams away, leaving cooler water to take its place. So the boiling water can't get above 100 °C. Because the paper is relatively thin, the water keeps its temperature from climbing high enough to combust. It's only when the water on the other side of the paper entirely boils away that the paper cup will burn away.

It’s a simple exercise, but one that gets people thinking outside the box

By Barry Jeffrey, Mar 11 2015 11:38AM

1. Lean Sigma is not easy. If it was everyone would be implementing it.

Process improvement takes a great deal of effort. Be sure you are clear about this. However for the organisations that have the strength and vision, the rewards far outstrip the initial pain.

2. Lean Sigma is more about cultural rather than physical change.

The real power of Lean Sigma lies in developing a culture of long term improvement and constantly challenging the norm. This will only happen when the culture of a business looks to everyone to help. Physical change should be looked at as the outcome of this process.

3. Get everyone involved.

Do not rely on a few ‘trained’ Lean experts to make changes. This will only serve to annoy people in the long run. Employ teachers to educate people to look for waste and opportunity as part of their day to day thinking.

4. Lean Sigma is about learning by doing.

Give permission for people to experiment and learn. To make mistakes from time to time is good, so long are you learning from it.

5. Make sure of your direction.

Before you start, make sure you align your efforts to your business goals. Make sure you know what you want success to look like,

6. Use the expertise of a consultant to accelerate the process, not as a crutch.

Use experts to help you in the initial stages. The right consultant will provide you with a depth of experience in starting the deployment process off in a controlled manner and also coach your organisation along the way. But do not rely on them longer term. Plan to put a framework in place.

7. Continuous Improvement is a journey, not a race or a competition.

Do not look at becoming a lean organisation as something you can achieve overnight. Companies like Toyota have been doing this for many years and still find huge opportunities for improvement. The more you look the more you see.

8. Leadership is exactly that, Leadership. Do not delegate it.

Lean Sigma will require people to think and perform differently. Change needs to be driven from the top. All of the senior team needs to be seen to be fully "Engaged". That means process improvement activities are in the schedules and that turn up and show genuine interest and remove roadblocks not create them.

By Barry Jeffrey, Mar 5 2015 08:48AM

How often do you see a section leader or manager running around like a headless chicken, struggling to gain control of what he or she is supposed to be managing day to day?

In my experience this is all too common, and contributes to arguments and a marked drop in both quality and efficiency as issues are missed and errors made.

Depending upon the industry, the look of the process and the operation may differ, but one thing that is common, is the commitment and dedication of the individual leaders to keeping the 'section running at all costs'

This dedication nearly always comes at a cost though. The stress levels that leaders put themselves under on a daily basis are huge. But why do they do this?

Let's think about it. What is of the role of a leader? What does the organisation expect of him or her? The answer is not ground breaking or complicated.

To keep their process running, producing high quality product, on time at minimum cost.

Yet in nearly all the facilities I visit, this appears to be extraordinarily difficult. I see people running around with clip boards, counting inventory, or in some cases, just looking at it. I see team members waiting for instructions or guidance. Scrap material hidden under benches or documents piling up in trays with dust starting to gather. In fact a whole series of examples of what appears to be a lack of organisation.

Another thing that you can be sure of is that the process was never designed to run like that, so what's gone wrong?

To my mind the answer is not a lack of organisation, but the fact that the process is not visual. So what do I mean by this?

One of the biggest problems that a leader faces in trying to run the process smoothly is the number of 'surprises' that they face on a daily basis. Problems crop up without warning with amazing regularity, forcing even the most hardened supervisor into 'firefighting mode' If only those problems could be seen a little earlier and investigated properly rather than having to apply a quick fix.

One of the key tools in the Lean Sigma ‘toolbox’ is ‘Abnormality management’. The process of finding a problem, then investigating the issue and applying a fix, all in a controlled manner.

Sounds simple, but unless you can actually see what is going on, how are you going to find the problem?

The answer to this is really two fold. Firstly all the common lean philosophies need to be put in place. For example, excess inventory needs to be reduced. I always say that in a ‘non lean environment, inventory is a supervisor's best friend, since the buffer it produces allows the process to continue to flow for a period whilst any problem is tackled.

This on the surface may appear to be a good thing, but the reality is that the inventory is masking the extent of the problem, and this normally means that the problem is never really put to bed properly.

Secondly we need to use a tool to be able to see what is really going on.

Ohno's Circle

Taiichi Ohno was the Toyota executive who is credited with much of the thinking behind the system known today as the Toyota Production System.

Ohno was well known for walking onto the shop floor and drawing a circle on the ground. He would then go and stand in the circle and observe, think and analyse. Learn what was actually going on. From this study he would then have enough knowledge to improve the process.

So this is what I encourage line leaders to do.

If necessary, arrange for some supervisory cover for 30 minutes (so as not to be disturbed). Armed with a pad of paper and pen, Go into the work area and stand in one central spot (it is not necessary to mark the floor like Ohno, unless you want other to do the same and compare notes). Stand in the circle and observe for 15 minutes. Do not move out of the circle, not even to ask a question, just observe. Write down any problems that you see and also things that are difficult to understand apply the 10 second rule, if you cannot understand what is going on in 10 seconds, write it down.

At the end of the 15 minutes, step out of the circle and analyse what as seen. Were there parts of the process it was difficult to understand the status of? Were there problems with flow or quality?, where people standing around waiting to use a piece of equipment like a photocopier? Consider each thing that was seen.

How could the process be made just a little better? More visual. Now in the remaining 15 minutes fix one problem!

This may seem a little extreme but it works. I encourage leaders to do this on a daily basis as part of their daily routine. As long as each time one problem is fixed or something is added to the process to make it more visual, very quickly the process will start to improve. The leader will start to feel more in control and firefighting will reduce.

All this will lead to the line leader having time to do what he or she should be doing, leading from the front and not chasing their tail.

So next time you have 30 minutes to spare, grab some paper and go and stand in a circle just like Ohno!

By Barry Jeffrey, Feb 17 2015 11:09AM

1. Leadership is exactly that, Leadership. It cannot be delegated to someone else.

One of the very fundamental points about Lean Sigma is that it will require people to think and perform differently. When asking an organisation to change its Leaders and all levels, need be ‘active teachers’.

The direction needs to be clear from the top down. Not localised in anyway. The senior team needs to be "Engaged". That means process improvement activities are in the schedules and that turn up and attend. It should not be seen as an initiative that is assigned to others.

2. Don't forget Middle Management.

Middle managers are notoriously difficult to get on board. They often struggle to see the big picture when faced with both upward and downward pressures. This layer of the structure requires extra attention to penetrate. Take time to get the Middle managers must get on board. Help them to understand for the approach. If leaders lead, middle managers will follow and the cultural shift will be easier.

3. Narrow and deep.

Focus on small stepped changes rather than large projects. It is better to execute a series of smaller, tightly-focused activities that get finished quickly, rather than something that takes months, costs a fortune and achieves little.

4. Go to the Gemba.

The Gemba where the work is done. Always observe the Actual Processes as they are performed, and talk to the People who perform the process. Issues cannot be solved in a meeting room.

5. Communicate, communicate and then communicate again.

People are naturally nervous of change and the reasons for it. Make sure that communication is a two way process and listen. Ensure you over-communicate to offset the natural fear.

6. Learning by doing

Do not fall into the trap of thinking Lean Sigma is just another training exercise. Most of principles are common sense and require little training. In fact most improvement is accomplished with the simple tools. Focus on training people in the discipline of seeing problems from a customer perspective and address them head-on.

6. Learning by doing

Do not fall into the trap of thinking Lean Sigma is just another training exercise. Most of principles are common sense and require little training. In fact most improvement is accomplished with the simple tools. Focus on training people in the discipline of seeing problems from a customer perspective and address them head-on.

By Barry Jeffrey, Jan 8 2015 08:08AM

How many organizations try to force in a 5S program and received kickback? Have you ever been in the position of trying to explain why 5S will change the working world for an employee?

If most people that are actively involved with Lean sigma are honest, I think most have at some point. Why should this be, after all 5S can only help the workforce can’t it?

Like most aspects of Lean Sigma, we have to consider culture and understanding how best to explain the tool and how it is best deployed. Reading a book and then going out and implementing 5S really is not the way.

5S will only work if individuals and the workforce as a whole, believe in the process, and buy into the fact that 5S as a tool that is useful to them. This means taking time to explain in detail the reasons why 5S is not only important but also how it can assist people on a day to day basis.

Time needs to be taken to explain that 5S is not simply another phrase for ‘housekeeping’. 5S is far more than that. It should be explained that 5S is really a waste identification and removal tool, and is there to help find waste at a local level.

How many times have you heard, ‘Quick the Big Boss’ is visiting today, give the place a quick 5S!’…….Wrong message.

Time must be made to work locally with the teams as they deploy 5S in their areas. Use live exercises and examples to drive home the message. When the 5S process starts to uncover abnormalities, help people to see this is good, providing and act to improve the situation.

Be careful how audit sheets are used. The way the audit process is executed can ‘make or break’ how a 5S program is perceived. Take time to explain that the score is not the most important box on the sheet. The area of the form that says ‘Opportunities for improvement’ by far is the most useful.

It is not a race. Teams should try and identify just one or two opportunities at a time and work to improve them. Good countermeasures, well implemented will pay dividends. Teams will then see their scores improve over time in a consistent manner. Take time to work with workforce to help them develop ‘open eyes’

5S is a great tool, if explained and implemented correctly. Make sure it is understood in your organization!