Author: Tim Akerman
With the advent of social distancing meeting for a coffee is not possible at the moment. That doesn’t mean we should stop interacting though.
I have met some great new people and had some fantastic discussions. If you would like to meet for a virtual coffee, either comment on this post or get in touch on the contact page.
Many businesses and leaders create a mission – vision – values statement then publish their values and forget them. Not a criticism really, just a simple truth. Management courses say they are necessary and you should have them, so managers create them. But what then? How do you use them to improve your business?
My answer is simple and incredibly hard to do. You use them every day in your decision making processes.
When was the last time you looked at your company values…I mean really looked at them and thought about your actions and checked they matched? Mission and vision are usually kept in mind, but most business leaders believe their primary purpose is to maximise profitability. I agree that businesses should be profitable, but there is a wide spectrum of how you do that. We are learning that how you make money is more important than how much money you make. It is my belief that focusing more on how you make money will mean you earn more in the long term. If your actions are aligned with your stated values it builds trust and respect with your entire supply chain, creating predictability of behaviour.
Is cash your primary focus? Let’s be honest, in the current situation it would be reasonable. If so how does that fit with your values?
This is what your values are for isn’t it, to ensure that when difficult decisions must be made you don’t regret them later. Clear values ensure your moral compass does not get damaged with short term needs. For example, many small shop owners (and some much larger businesses!) have dramaticaly increased the cost of essential goods. This could be seen as an impact of market demand or it could be sen as profiteering. Everyone expects prices to rise a little, but if customers believe that prices have risen disproportionately to costs this will lead to friction. Some customers will pay for the goods now, however they will also change suppliers as soon as possible. One must also ask if the short term profit made is worth the long term reputational damage. If your only concern is how much profit can be made it all seems reasonable. If you are putting your customer’s business at risk to increase your own profits, your customers won’t forgive you easily or quickly. As Henry Ford said;
“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”
Join the discussion below, let me know if this matches your experience. If you are aleader, what are the challenges in getting your values used in the business?
A huge number of businesses are still functioning with a distributed workforce, working from home and largely delivering what they have always delivered. Are they using the same processes though? I strongly suspect many businesses have reviewed what people do and eliminated many tasks that are expected when people are in work, but become impossible when they are at home. The question this creates is if these tasks are not essential when people work from home, are they needed at all?
This is a great opportunity to think carefully about the tasks we do each day and ask how much value they really add. There is much to learn from remote working, some of our time is taken up with tasks that are done because “we have always done it that way”. Two phrases that come to mind in this situation are
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
“When needs must, the devil drives”
Why are these important?
We have seen some incredible efforts to do new things, for example Formula 1 teams designing ventilators, engineering companies manufacturing ventilators, ordinary people using 3D printers to make facemasks, cosmetics companies manufacturing hand sanitiser.
When we have an overriding imperative we embrace our ability to be resourceful and inventive. Suddenly staff working from home is not a risk to productivity, it is a vital contribution to saving lives. Many managers and workers have found themselves working from home and needing to find new ways to communicate, new ways to manage their time, and are having to adjust their priorities to fit everything in. Inevitably some tasks are not a high priority in this situation. Now if those tasks are not significant in a crisis, how critical are they to the business overall? It is a question we should all ask, often we are too busy spinning the wheel to ask why we are doing it. This creates several wastes such as overprocessing (e.g. duplication of effort), waiting (sometimes for things that don’t really matter), motion (physical transfer of forms), defects (errors caused by rushing or distraction). We are also becoming more aware of pockets of overburden and unevenness in our organisations, as we observe people looking at new ways of working. As we decide some things are not important for now, perhaps we should consider if those tasks should be retired permanently.
Lacking access to meeting rooms and face to face meeting time has forced us to look at alternative meeting formats, for example Zoom, Google hangouts, Microsoft teams meetings. For many these technologies have been available for some time but have been shunned because they are new or “that’s not how we do it around here”. Needs must however, and now we find ourselves embracing new formats, new platforms and new behaviours. There is an opportunity in these new technologies; perhaps instead of everyone going to a specific room at a specific time for a meeting, we can use Teams to meet virtually at that time. If that saves five minutes at the start of the meeting and ten minutes at the end, for a daily meeting that is sixty hours a year per attendee. Five people in the meeting amounts to 300 hours per year. What could you do with that time? Another benefit of a virtual meeting might be a greater focus on the information that is being shared. Perhaps we can become more attentive to the business information, and in doing so think more carefully about how to present the required information in manner that is clear and accessible. Another example is accounting packs. Do we really need to prepare ten accounting packs, print them out and send them out to all attendees? Or do we need to prepare a single report in a teams folder and give everyone the same time to read the important information before the meeting. If you produce ten accounting packs a month, with let’s say 30 pages, that is a paper saving of over 7 reams of paper a year for one meeting. Not huge, but again why us eit if you don’t need to?
It is when you start multiplying all these benefits by the number of meetings and tasks across the whole business that your capacity problem becomes clearer. I often hear people say we don’t have time to improve, or e are already fully loaded. They also spend a considerable amount of time each day reworking tasks and replacing defects; do you not have enough time to fix your process? How much time and money could be saved by getting things right first time? Your investment in right first time will pay off.
If we reduce the demand for staff, what do we do with them?
This is a critical point and it is where many businesses kill their improvement programmes. They discover the tasks can be done with less staff and lay them off. They can do the same with less. Short term this is a cost saving, no doubt about it, but long term what is the impact on process improvement? Will your staff give their best efforts to improve the process if it endangers their livelihood? Would you? And what of the skills they take with them, they will undoubtedly use those skills in their next role, which could be with your competitor. Now think about this again. What happens if you use the time crated to increase capacity and grow the business. Redeploy them to relieve bottlenecks in other areas, retrain them to develop new capabilities, think more of their capabilities and potential than their cost. While the business is growing you can use all those staff who you have just trained in improvement techniques to find improvements in other areas. You will gain even more capacity, reduce costs and improve lead time. Exactly what you have been doing to cope in this time of crisis. A bonus is that you will also create a continuous improvement group from within your own staff.
When we go back to a more normal life, it will be tempting to resume all of the tasks we have been happily living without. Old meeting styles will be like an old favourite coat, comfortable and familiar. Consider this as you return to a business life after this crisis; you are able to choose what waste you reintroduce to your processes. Do you take the opportunity to adopt new ways of working and discard wasteful process steps, or do you limit the effectiveness of your operation? The organisations that let go of the activities that they have discovered were not necessary will thrive and grow in the wake of COVD19. We all need to thrive and grow, so I encourage you to create a new normal.
You have an opportunity to take the things you learn from coping in this crisis and use them to strengthen your business, create a continuous improvement culture and improve not only your immediate prospects, but also your long term future. Or not. I’ll leave you with this thought, W Edwards Deming said it best
“You do not need to change, survival is not mandatory.”
I feel for the extroverts who need to self isolate, your world collapsing to a single building must feel awful. It’s easy to lose focus and be overwhelmed by your brains all too human desire to catastrophise and focus on the negative. Rest assured you are not alone, we all have some degree of this to manage.
Also, spare a thought for those of us who find shouting about what we do difficult. Introverts enjoy the isolation, but that doesn’t mean it is good for them. We need to be shouting about what we do, but it isn’t easy.
I am an introvert. My customers tell me I do a great job, however, me telling others feels like boasting. I push through it, but it’s uncomfortable.
What I can do is listen. It is one of the blessings of introversion, listening is easy. I can also see complex patterns in data, be it big number sets or the things you tell me as your coach.
Whatever else you do with this time, don’t sit and worry until it becomes too much. Find someone to talk to, share your fears and concerns be they personal or business focused.
Stay safe, the world will change, we just need to be ready to adjust when we can get back to our lives.
If the last 3 months have taught us anything about lean and process improvement, it should be that long supply chains are not lean. It is interesting that many of the businesses that should know better e.g. automotive businesses have been caught out with this problem.
One of the key components of a truly lean business is local supply chains. When COVID19 erupted in China, supply chains to many British (and global) firms were disrupted. The loss of capacity directly affected output of suppliers running long supply chains and trying to achieve JIT (Just In Time). The excess inventory in the supply chain bought some time, but very quickly those businesses found themselves with too few parts. The supply chains were not even just in different countries in one continent, they crossed multiple continents. As the crisis in China worsened, back up plans were implemented. Some worked, some didn’t, some businesses had not activated their emergency plans for so long they were no longer valid. Suppliers had ceased trading, disposed of tooling, changed materials, machinery, people, processes, all of which will have required fresh quality assessments. No doubt these were expedited, often by trading risks, the risk of quality failure later seen as a smaller risk than supply failure now.
We now face a nightmare scenario. Low output from extended supply chains and inadequate emergency response plans in the first instance, now the virus has spread to our country. The requirements for social distancing and isolation are now hampering output here in the UK – just as output in China is starting to come back online. The extended reduction in output has significant economic impact, requiring government intervention to prevent industrial collapse.
For now we must all be rational, obey the social distancing and isolation advice to ensure our communities are safe and the vulnerable are protected, but what of the future? I suggest that when we regain stability, British companies should re-evaluate the use of extended supply chains. We should onshore the manufacturing of critical components to insulate the supply chain from a further risk. With increasing severe weather events from climate change, political instability and regional unrest, long supply chains hold high risk. The risk and hence cost is not borne by the company alone, there is government level risk that is being taken through global supply chains. With some organisations transferring profit to benefit from better tax conditions, it is possible that the contributions of a business in a country don’t match the cost of large scale supply chain disruption. Whilst it can be tempting to focus on short term cost saving, the long term economic damage of a significant global event is too high a risk. This too is a feature of lean thinking, organisations must foucs on the long term strategic benefits.
If a business wants to be truly lean this must include long term strategic thinking and as a result localised supply chains wherever possible.
I have been looking on LinkedIn and I saw another post advocating gaining clarity in your business through Vision – Mission – Values. It got me thinking, who sets their values after deciding what they are going to do to achieve their aims? I don’t think that’s how people work. It also implies that people choose their values according to the situation – are your values flexible? If they are, can they really be called values?
The values a person holds are part of their character and adherence to those values demonstrates integrity. Integrity adn consistency lead to authenticity and ultimately to trust. The same is true of businesses. Without trust, you can’t build brands, relationships or teams. It would be impossible to trust a business or person whose values are flexible. So it seems odd to me that those charged with advising us on how to develop our businesses seem to advocate flexible values. Perhaps it is unintended, the problem is that communication is really hard to do well. Determining your values individually and collectively in a business is hard work. It takes serious consideration, you must understand what impact choosing these values will have on your daily activities. This is because IF these are your values and IF you truly believe in them, there may be some activities you must stop doing. Some of these activities may be lucrative, but if they conflict with your stated values and you continue to do them, are your values really worth anything?
I propose a small change. First establish your values. Once you know your values you can choose a vision that is consistent with your values. The vision is what you want to achieve, now create your mission, this is how you will deliver your vision. Since your values are already defined, you can choose actions that are aligned with your values. This eliminates any conflict that could arise if the actions you think you should take to deliver your vision and mission is inconsistent with your values. As business leaders we have a responsibility to live the values we espouse for our business. If we cannot adhere to these values, why should any of our employees? If we cannot commit to them as core beliefs, are they really values?
You values must be real and lived, fake values laminated on a wall are a web that will trap you eventually. Own your values, choose a vision that is consistent with your values, then live your values through your mission and daily activities. This will deliver constancy of purpose to your organisation and is a starting platform for continuous improvement.
5S programmes are started and fail again and again. What do the successful project do differently?
To make 5S sustainable it is vital that all employees are properly trained and committed to the process. All employees includes management and executive leadership. If your executives don’t understand their role in 5S it cannot be sustained. Visual management techniques should be understood and used by all. Workplaces that are well ordered with employees who adhere to the procedures that have been agreed will remain well ordered. Through repetition and discipline, the new ways of working become habits, these habits become principles. When the process of 5S becomes principle, it will be part of the company way until people say “that’s just how we do it”.
Checklists should be developed for each area to ensure that the things that are agreed are transparent and obvious. This enables everyone to focus on the things that are important, have specific and observable definitions, employees own their working area. This supports improvement and enables workers to identify improvement opportunities As a result of this, the checklists are living documents that evolve over time. One useful way to present the checklist is as a laminated list to enable write on and wipe off. The objective is to have a timely and visible reminder, not to create a paper trail. This should be posted where the work happens and include space for comments and questions. The checklist should be limited to between 5 and 10 points, Any less and the checklist is ineffective. Any more and completing the checklist becomes a burden.
Having set the schedule and agreed on the items, the area should be audited. Audits work best when there is a layered structure. Operator and supervisor audits focus on tasks and ensuring things are done. They ensure activity and corrective actions. Manager and director audits focus on workload and facilities. Managers and directors should ask more frequently what help is needed and what more they can do. Telling an operator about an error is system tampering. The results of the audit are presented to the operators to help them identify areas for improvement, not to shame or punish. the purpose of audits is to support the people doing the work with objective feedback on their progress.
In the standardise stage we can access the greatest benefits of 5S. Standard work is the lifeblood of continuous improvement. Without standards, there can be no improvement, but without standardisation sustained improvement cannot be achieved. The reason for this is that inevitably improving a process will change the process. If multiple methods are improved over time the likelihood of one or more of the improvements conflicting increases. If the process is standardised, it creates trust between operators and reduces the opportunity for confusion and errors.
One way to develop and standardise is to create standard operating procedures (SOP’s). These should be simple, clear and easy to follow. The people who operate the process should create the SOP’s, since they are the process experts. The SOP should include
- details of all required equipment, including safety equipment, to do the task
- best practice and tips to make the task easy
- instruction on what to do if the process moves outside of control or specification limits
In addition, the SOP should be mistake proofed and act as a standalone training tool. As with any process, regular auditing supports consistent application fo the process principles and practices.
More than anything else we are trying to create habits and change behaviour such that 5S isn’t an additional activity, it is just how things are done. This requires us to move through the following sequence
- Unconscious Incompetence
We are unaware that our processes or tasks are poor and in need of improvement.
- Conscious Incompetence
At this stage, we become aware that our processes or tasks are in need of improvement, but perhaps need graining and support to make the changes.
- Conscious Competence
Having had the help and support we become competent, but it is a daily struggle. We are doing all of the right things, but we must think about it constantly and ensure we review best practice.
- Unconscious Competence
At this stage, we have achieved the state of business as usual. We don’t consider what we do as special, because it is everyday business. We must guard against complacency though, if we don’t strive for improvement and excellence we may degrade into unconscious incompetence.
When trying to make change happen, one must consider the balance between driving forces and restraining forces. We always try to drive improvement, however, whenever we increase the drive, the resistance increases. To enable change to proceed, we must remove the resistance not increase the drive.
We also start to use the visual order created previously. Abnormalities should be visible and information shared and obvious. Red tags should be actioned and resolved. There should be a cleaning plan. The process should be documented in SOP’s, everyone should be trained and everyone should be following the process. Staff should be encouraged to improve the process in a controlled manner, working to a separate SOP for process improvement.
Whilst the obvious impact of scrub is to get the area clean, there are a range of added benefits that greatly enhance process improvement. Rather than becoming a laborious chore, cleaning becomes a checking process that leads to continuous improvement.
Making cleaning processes a routine part of the process highlights abnormalities. These abnormalities become items to be fixed, and fixing them requires us to learn about the process and solve problems. The habit of solving problems is continuous improvement, and working in a continually improving work place encourages employees to make a positive contribution. Since each employee can see how their own efforts are expressed in the process, they are more likely to feel some ownership of the process and take pride in their work place.
Making cleaning a habit doesn’t happen by accident, it requires a strategy involving leadership will to stop the process for cleaning, and plans to ensure cleaning becomes standard work. Cleaning plans should follow the 5W1H model;
The aim of cleaning plans is to clean little and often, with everyone having the responsibility to clean as they go. Eliminating root causes prevents dirt and debris building up and reduces the time spent cleaning. When combined with visual sweeping, this technique becomes a powerful source of improvement. Visual sweeping involves looking at all work surfaces, floors, aisles, storage areas/containers and equipment and really seeing the condition of each area. You are looking for dirt and debris, equipment that is ready to use, missing or damaged parts or fixings, excess materials, damage, storage, or any other defect relevant to the work done in that area.
As with 1S and 2S this exercise should be repeated every 3 to 6 months to adjust for changes in working practices and area usage.
Straighten is focused on organising the workplace to reduce waste. To do this we must clearly understand the frequency of use of each item. When this is understood we can decide where items should be placed and make the workplace visual.
To decide where items should be placed, we should first understand the flow of the area and look for evidence of waste. We consider 7 types of waste
Do we need to move items to different locations for work to be done. If so, we could move the items closer together.
Inventory is cash tied up in the business. The longer that cash is tied up in inventory, the greater the risk of obsolescence. In addition, high cash demand for inventory increases the cash gap, stifling growth.
Waiting is `wasteful at the best of times, however, what must be tracked is waiting at bottleneck resources. Bottleneck process steps are rate-determining and limit output already If they are waiting it is impossible for the process to recover lost time.
Production of more than is needed is a waste since it consumes time and resources, potentially taking them away from orders that the customer is waiting for. Adding stock to warehouse where it may become outdated is also an increased risk
Processing items more than necessary, or duplication of effort are clearly wastes or resources. Duplicated processing or elongated processing times reduce capacity and add to costs.
Making something incorrectly will result in either rework or replacement. Replacement means that item took twice the materials expected, rework means it took far more labour than expected. If the item escapes from the organisation and reaches the customer, it will result in complaints and possibly loss of custom.
Understanding the flow of materials and work in the business can be accomplished using a spaghetti diagram. These are created by tracing the movement of work on a floorplan. Similarly a physical process map can be used by placing post-its for each step on a floorplan, connecting the dots and calculating the distance travelled. The diagrams can then be analysed for waste, congestion or any other problems that may contribute to ineffectiveness in the process.
Having identified the problems a new process layout can be created to eliminate as many of the problems as possible.
Some things we use daily, some weekly, some monthly and some rarely. Clearly they don’t all need to be here right now. Using the information from 1S about what is needed, decide how often items are used. Daily use items should be at the workstation. Items that are needed on a weekly basis should be close by, and as the usage gets less frequent the item can be further away. Items that are used infrequently can be in storage.
Now we know what is stored and how often it is used, we can place things to make the workplace visual. In a visual workplace, it is obvious where to go to find what they need, where to return it and what needs to be done. Item recoil is the hardest thing to build into the system. How can we ensure that itens are returned to their correct storage location? There are many ways, using colour, shadow boards, labelling, and floor markings.
As with 1S, 2S must be repeated every 3 to 6 months to ensure routines are maintained and that the arrangements remain cinsistent with process and business needs.