Category Archives: Productivity

8 Steps to Get People in a Continuous Improvement Mindset

One of the most challenging jobs I’ve had is converting a company culture from a R&D to production mindset.  This means everyone has to stop thinking of each project as a unique event and start thinking about how to standardize the work and eliminate waste to reduce costs and lead time as quickly as possible.  This can be done not just on a repeatable manufactured product, but also on processes or projects, as with construction, that have a lot of commonality between jobs although the duration/scope may be slightly different.

Kickstart this process by doing a short training on the 8 types of waste – over producing, wasting time, transport, processing time/duplication, inventory, excess motion, scrap and rework and under utilization of people.  What I’ve found works best is to get a cross functional group together and brainstorm examples by type of waste on the product, process or job you want to address.

I would recommend writing up everyones’ ideas on a whiteboard or using post-its on a wall under each waste header.  Once issues are identified, the team can quickly prioritize which ones should be addressed first.  Prioritization should be highest on issues that are easiest to resolve and have the highest payback.  Payback can ultimately be in valued in dollars in many ways including reduced inventory, faster cycle time (increased productivity), improved quality (less time spent managing quality issues), and reduced transportation costs.  I typically give everyone a marker and have them mark their top 5 right on the board.  The ones with the most votes win.

This exercise serves two purposes, making folks aware of what waste is so they can more easily identify and eliminate it going forwards as well as leaving the team with a prioritized list of opportunities.  An additional benefit is that everyone has a chance to vent on the issues they’ve worked through and feel included on the path going forwards!

5S is More than a “Morale Booster”

I have been implementing Lean for 20 years across the supply chain and ran the Lean Six Sigma organization for a major GE business.  Benefits can be quantified to show the value of using Lean to achieve critical business goals.  5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) does “help morale” and is intuitively a “good thing”  but can also be quantified using two metrics:

  1. Lead time of a product through the shop or time to complete a job – It is fundamental in program management or basic shop floor control to know the start and end time.  If this type of data isn’t yet being recorded, it needs to be.  More output (or increased capacity) with the same people and equipment is a productivity improvement and can lead to increased revenues. Putting process in place to gather this data is the first step to making issues visible, knowing how you are performing and quantifying benefits.
  2. Quality – Depending on the situation, this might be defect per unit or “job” if on a construction site, scrap, returns for poor quality, etc.  It is important to realize that as an organization moves from being reactionary to being proactive (continuous improvement mindset), it will appear that things get worse before they get better  because the problems start becoming visible.

Implementing 5S at a minimum should improve these two areas.  Shorter lead times and improved quality mean increased capacity and productivity, less scrap, reduced inventory, and either more output with the same people or space to add some additional service (ie. prefabrication in construction environment).

I would make sure before you start a 5S event, that you work with leadership to find out what data is available or setup a process to capture the data in order to quantify the benefits.  And improved morale while you work is pretty awesome too!