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Last month I was having a chat with a friend about a problem they were having at their organisation. They had been trying to get their people involved in doing some continuous improvement, or any improvement work.
They had sat everyone down and told them that they needed to find ways to get products out quicker. The issue was that their order book was growing and for them to take advantage of that they needed to increase their deliveries. It is a great problem to have, especially at the moment!
The issue was that they wanted to make massive changes so had set the team off to come up with ideas on how to completely rearrange the whole factory. It was not working. I was just too much for them and everyone was focused on trying to the big jump and make the big changes needed.
I pointed out that it was not a big change they needed, it was a whole bunch of little changes, quickly.
I asked him, when you decided to run a marathon for your 45th birthday, did you go out the next day and run a marathon? Of course, not he replied... actually he used some other words as well, but we won't print them here to save his blushes. I had to work up to it, I had zero fitness, no stamina, and no ability to keep pace. Exactly! I said… he looked a little confused, so I continued You just asked your team to run a marathon, with no training! When you start out with lean, or any type of continuous improvement framework you need to start out with smaller steps, quick wins and build up the CI muscles. Change can be exhausting, not just physically as you move things around but mentally as you brain not only copes with the stresses of the change from the norm but also with the use of brain power to come up with the ideas.
It is about baby steps I said, what is the smallest quickest change anyone can make, can they find a 5 second saving in what they do today? As usual a sceptical look, 5 seconds will not do much?... not on its own but you have 70 people, if everyone found just 5 seconds three times a well that's 17.5 minutes saved in your process in a week. That is a lot of savings! Moreover, they would be across the board so you would see a improvement of the whole process, over time it'll mount up. Sometimes I said it is about watching what people do and then just suggesting a little tweak. Let me give you an example of a little tweak from home I said
When we cook potato wedges in the oven at home my wife and I have used to have different ways of laying them out of the tray. My wife was more of a they are on the tray and that is going to be fine, me on the other hand, I lay them on the tray in rows, all facing the same way. Yep he sniggered, you are a but obsessive with this tidy order thing. I continued, When the buzzer on the oven goes and we need to turn them over we both go to do it as It is quicker, teamwork. When it was wedges that my wife set up it was a little longer because there are inevitably questions about which wedge has been turned over and what has not. When it came to my wedges, we would start at one end and finish at the other and it is 100% obvious which wedges have been turned. They are facing the opposite direction from the rest. It is a lot quicker. Each time we did it, my wife comments that my way is quicker, I would smile and say yep but always left it there. What is your point he asked, you make wedges quicker?... I did, I said, but now we do them exactly same way, my wife has adopted my method, we have standard work for cooking wedges, she saw that it was easier and thought ok I can do that and it was locked in as an improvement. (it is important to point out my wife is a really smart lady and not just because she is my wife!)
So, what you are saying he said, is we need to go find easy stuff like this and just keep repeating it? More or less I said, somewhere in everything you do there will be a best way, at the moment, you need to make that they way everyone does it so it's repeatable. Make it the standard work method. You need that standard to know if the next thing you try really does make it better or not.
Then you need to challenge everyone to figure out how to make that best way, your standard way, better and so on. Do not try and run the marathon, do the training, and build the muscle over a little bit of time. You will get better pretty quickly. Just make sure you tell people what they end goal is so everyone knows where they are trying to get to other wise people can, with the very best intentions go the wrong way.
My friend and I caught up the other day again and I got a bit of an update on how things were going. It is magic he said, things are just flying through the place, well, compared to how it was previously. We have cut our delivery time by about 40% which is just amazing. The team are just tweaking things almost every other day! The maintenance guy noticed that they were having to measure some parts constantly before they worked on them, it took a fair bit of time to measure, do the work, measure again and so on. So, he cut and shaped some blocks of wood into size gauges that they could just lay against the work piece to quickly check, it cut that process time in half! There are so many little things like that going on and everything is labelled, we did that 5s stuff you keep banging on about… it works!
Lean, or any type of CI is a marathon, in fact it's worse than that because it never ever ends. If you try and launch into it without doing some small stuff you will exhaust the team quickly. Moreover, you can achieve amazing results with just a little tweak here or there and doing things consistently. Our favourite way of approaching this is to use Mike Rother's Toyota kata approach or experimenting your way forward. It lets you make a change test it and then identify the next step without having to shoot for the moon right away.
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