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Improving Quality and Productivity by Standing Still

It sounds counter intuitive doesn't it, if you want to improve your quality and your productivity it's best if you just stand still for a while. Surely you need to be running around doing things, having meetings, inspecting things, checking things, gathering lots and lots of data, maybe even a white board session with your best Ishikawa Diagram (fishbone chart) or a 5 whys or working through your A3 or 8D reports. I don't know about you but for me, quite frankly it all sounds rather exhausting.

Stand Still and See 

I was reminded the other day about a session I had a few years ago with a fantastic photography mentor I had. I love photographing landscapes, I guess it fits with my big picture thinking! My mentor wanted to push me a little and so we arranged to meet at the botanic gardens, not my natural habitat to say the least. He then sat me down in front of a flower bed and explained that I was here for the next 30 minutes to photograph flowers, one of my least favourite things in the world to do. I was instructed to choose a lens (carefully) and a position (also carefully) so I could see a range of things. I was then to stay there for 30 minutes and create no less than 20 different images. Now, this may not sound a lot but believe me it's a lot of images. I'm not talking snaps, we were looking for images that you could go hang on the wall or sell. 20 is a lot!

I sat for easily for the first 7 or 8 minutes just looking at all the flowers, the colours, patterns, the layers, how they moved, what touched what and so on to try to get an idea of the image options in my head even before I started shooting. Finally, I set to work on my images.

So what has this got to do with Quality & productivity? Well remember I wanted only images I could sell so I needed quality images, and I only had 30 minutes, so I could waste time composing, recomposing taking an image, reviewing the image, deleting the image and then retaking another image, it was 1 click and that was it. I wanted quality and I wanted to be productive.

Standing In A Circle 

When it comes to lean, people get excited about getting stuck in and fixing things, lets rip out the waste! Surely you don't want to stand still here.

Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota's TPS & hence lean would disagree with you here. As an industrial engineer (also my background) he was fascinated by the movement of people, specifically the waste of movement. The vast majority of lean improvement after all is about shaving seconds not days. One of the techniques that Ohno used to use with those he mentored was to draw a chalk circle on the floor and ask the mentee to stand there, for about 20 or 30 minutes and watch. By the end of that time he would come back and expect to have at least 20 -30 improvement ideas from that person. They were not allowed to move, they were not allowed to interact or ask questions they were only allowed to watch.

Being Blind with your Eyes Open

Something I talk about a lot, is about being blind with your eyes open, and it comes from the photography side of things. It's about looking but not really seeing and this is what Ohno was trying to counter. Standing that circle for 20 or 30 minutes is the same as me sitting in front of the flower bed. For the first 5 or 10 minutes you are frustrated and just seeing lots of flowers which are all exactly the same. Then you start to really look, they are not the same, the petals have different patterns, some as dogeared, some have clearly been a regular stopping point for bees and the pollen is scattered around, you start to see the detail.

When Ohno put people in the circle they started with the obvious low hanging fruit but then they stopped looking and finally saw things. That person was taking 15 steps each time in a 30 second cycle, if they rearranged things they would only need to take 10, which would save 10 seconds and reduce stress on the person. There are 28800 seconds in an 8hr working day, if you can save one third of them that's about 2.5hrs per day, we work on average 260 days per year so that's 650hrs saved… just with removing 5 steps!.. Then they noticed that the sound of a torque wrench wasn't right, the result, lose bolts that needed to be reworked later on, again more savings, still they haven't moved.

Don't Assume, Learn

You can wander around or look at the numbers on a spreadsheet and think you know what's going on, you don't. If you want to know you need to go to where it's happening, go to the Gemba as they say. When you are there, it is very hard to understand things if the only thing you can hear is your own voice. Stay silent, watch, take note, when you have enough of an understanding and a pattern of things happening, then ask for understanding, ask the question and be quite so you can learn.


I ask people on a regular basis, what do you see what do you not see, I'm testing to understand what they are truly observing, it takes time. If you want to really learn to see and really move into being lean then the very best thing you can do it to find a spot in your organisation that lets you see what's going on and stand there for 20 or 30 minutes just observing. Out of that you will start with maybe 5 things you see, then 10, then 20 then the flood gates open. You are finally seeing and learning. The result is that your quality and your productivity as an organisation will soar as you implement improvements to counter the things you have seen, remember however, it never stops and your obligation when you can see is simple, show someone else the circle.

Get In Touch

If you need any support in developing or improving your productivity or quality then click here to make an appointment and find out how we can help you Make Things, Better

You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 


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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

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