Stay safe

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.

Lean supply chains

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 Some worked, some didn’t, some businesses had not activated their emergency plans for so long they were no longer valid.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.

Prioritise your values for success

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 – Sustain

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.


4S – Standardise

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.

3S – Scrub

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.

2S – Straighten

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

  • Transport
    Do we need to move items to different locations for work to be done. If so, we could move the items closer together.
  • Inventory
    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
    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.
  • Overproduction
    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
  • Overprocessing
    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.
  • Defects
    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.

1S – Simplify

We are going to run through each of the steps of 5S identifying the critical activities that enable the process. The first S of 5S is


Simplify is about removing all that is unnecessary from the area. If each of us considers the area we work in, how much of what is around us is really needed, here and now?

The first step in 1S is to take photographs of the area as it it. Don’t try to tidy up, just record how it is. Take careful note of the position you took the photos from, since you will be taking after photos from the same location. The next step is to ensure that everyone involved in the process is safe. Identify the risks in the process and ensure everyone involved also understands the risks. Provide training and equipment to all staff and ensure that waste disposal routes are appropriate for the type of waste.

We need to understand what should be at our work station. The first step in deciding what should be at your work station is to decide what happens at your work station and write it down. This should be done by the people who work in the area; once there is a written description of the activities that happen at your work station, it is possible to determine what tools, equipment, jigs, materials, and other items are necessary

At this point carry out a red tag event. The people who work in the area should use the information about what happens in the area and the tools and materials needed to carry out the work. Everything else should be red-tagged and moved to the red tag storage area. Items that have been moved to the red tag storage area should only be stored for a limited time. Typically items are moved into the area within one week and disposed of after four weeks. Managers and heads of department should review the items in the red tag area on a weekly basis to identify items that would be expensive or impractical to replace, items that can be used effectively elsewhere and items that can be disposed of. It is always good practice to check not only if an item is needed, but also how many are needed.

Finally don’t think of 1S as a one-off event. It will need to be repeated every 3 to 6 months because items will be brought back to the area and not returned to storage and over time the usage of the area could change.

5 steps for preparation for 5S

Many people have heard of 5S, however, people often think of 5S and associate it with housekeeping. So, is 5S just an extreme form of housekeeping? Certainly not!

5S was originally used in Toyota to improve performance. The ‘5S’ referred to five simple everyday Japanese words that everyone would understand. The thought process was that by keeping the words simple and grounded in day to day language, the worker could focus on the intent not remembering complex terminology. When this technique was first imported to the west, the trainers used the Japanese words and created an obstacle that should never have been part of the process. The driving force for this was seeing the task not the process. Copying the Japanese implementation across language and cultural boundaries failed to communicate the philosophy and structure behind the process. 5S is an integral part of kaizen linked to elimination of waste and focus on value. For that reason, I use five simple English words – I only teach in English.

The 5S’s are;


Another misunderstanding from the west was adding a sixth S, safety. Safety is of vital importance, however, adding safety as the sixth S misses the point. The five S’s are grounded in an assumption that everything is safe. If the process isn’t safe don’t wait for 5S, deal with the safety issues before starting 5S, after all why would you work with an unsafe process?

Preparing for 5S is vital and too often organisations don’t invest enough to ensure they create the right environment that allows employees to succeed. There are five critical steps to creating the right environment for employees to succeed at 5S.

  1. Create policy and a plan.
    To implement 5S successfully the organisation must establish a clear policy that documents the benefits of 5S and the roles and responsibilities for implementation. The leadership team must be united on the need and purpose of 5S. The team who create the policy and plan should be drawn from all levels of the business. This is to ensure that the potential pitfalls and problems are identified and discussed. Through this discussion the business can ensure alignment between all levels of the business and significantly reduce the opportunities for conflict. The policy should explain the behaviours and standards the business will adhere to regarding 5S.
  2. Write the Procedure.
    Document the process for implementing and managing 5S. 5S is a form of standard work and supports employees and management alike in understanding the benefits and advantage in standardising working practices. Implementing 5S without standard work will make the process much more difficult than expected.
  3. Create a red tag format and area.
    Standard red tags used throughout the business create consistency. This consistency ensures that everyone is clear about the meaning and purpose of any red tag in the business. The red tags also contain standardised information allowing correct identification of the item, date tagged, reason for tagging and disposition of the item. This item can then be placed in a fixed area for disposal or storage.
  4. Create a red tag log.
    Red tagging alone won’t create a clear picture of the items in the business that are not required. The red tag log allows management to track items and the decisions made regarding their disposition. The log also allows tracking of location, cost and stock level.
  5. Communicate the plan and train those involved.
    Once all the preparation is done, communicate why 5S is important and what benefits implementing 5S will bring. Once this is communicated throughout the business select the first team to implement 5S and train them how to implement the process.

Preparing properly for 5S will increase the speed of adoption and the likelihood of success. The leadership must understand their role in the process. Leadership should not be dictating, they need to collaborate with the workforce. The most effective activity that leadership can undertake is to identify and remove obstacles to progress, ensuring that employees have the tools and resources to succeed.
Read the future posts on how to implement each of the steps of 5S


6 tips to live your values, not just laminate them

Every business has a set of values that they tell the world about, but do they live by these values?

All too often, the values are laminated, put on a wall and ignored. Managers are neither held to account nor do they hold their staff to account for deviating from the values. If asked intellectually what do their values mean, they can explain what they mean, however, if challenged when deviating from the values there is always an explanation, a set of special circumstances that mean the values don’t apply. The more money that is involved in following the values, the more pressure the employee feels to make an exception. The problem is increased if the mission and vision are inconsistent with the values, or the employees are not connected to the values. Here are some tips for ensuring that your values are lived not laminated.

  1. Select the right team to set values
    Values are typically set by the management team. What happens when there is a conflict between the business practices and the new values? Will the management team even recognise the conflict? Involving staff at different levels creates an opportunity for assumptions and biases to be challenged. Management must listen to the issues raised and discuss the challenges that will be faced throughout the organisation arising from the values choices.
  2. Ensure there are not too many values
    If you have more than four or five key values, they become hard to remember. If your employees can’t remember the values, how do you expect them to implement your values. Distilling your values to such a small list is difficult, you must decide what really matters.
  3. Create a red flag mechanism
    For the values to have meaning there must be a mechanism to raise conflict between values and actions that is transparent to employees. It is inevitable that there will be challenges in upholding the values, times when the actions that seem obvious are in conflict with one or more of the values. The temptation is always to say that the circumstances are unique or unprecedented, you can’t expect the values to be upheld, or our competitors aren’t restricted in the same way. There are many excuses used to deviate from the values. Having a red flag mechanism enables everyone in the business to raise a concern and also allows the business to stop and choose a different action that is compatible with the values.
  4. Communicate the values
    For the values to be meaningful they must be communicated to everyone in the organisation. Communication does not mean laminate the values and place them on every notice board, although this can be done. Communicate the values through briefing sessions and open discussions, give your teams the opportunity to explore what the values mean and how they will impact on their daily activities. Acknowledge the things that need to change and commit to the changes. Most importantly communicate that this is not a fad, it is the new normal. Your integrity will be judged on how well your future behaviour implements the declared values.
  5. Use the values to make decisions
    Once the value set is agreed, they MUST be used. Ideally, the use of values will be overt and obvious. For example, at the start of a meeting, state the values and remind everyone that all actions must be consistent with the values. At the end of a meeting, review actions agreed against the values of the business. Ask if the actions are consistent with the values. If any action is inconsistent with the values revisit the issue and determine an alternative action. Include a review of values in non-conformance and complaint handling processes. Adhering to values is easy when there are no challenges, you will only know if the values are important when the business is under pressure.
  6. Hold everyone accountable for upholding the values
    If the business believes in its values, everyone will adhere to them. From the chairman to the cleaner, everyone must uphold and implement the values, no-one is exempt from them. Values set the character of the business, and like a person, the business behaviours must be consistent with its expressed values. If the business does not adhere to its own values, the stakeholders will create their own set of values for the business based on its behaviours. Be warned that these values are unlikely to showcase your business favourably!


Values communicate the character of your business to all of the stakeholders, it is easy to write a set of values that looks good, but adhering to them is much harder. Laminating your values is worse than not documenting them IF you don’t uphold them.

My advice is to document your values after careful consideration then adhere to them with discipline and rigour.