Getting it Right: The Crucial Role of Standard Work

We all have our own way of doing work.

This is something we learned in school, found it worked for us in the past, or we just developed a habit to do our work in a certain way. Let’s take a simple example: Managing e-mails. Some people print each and every e-mail to keep a trail of the conversation. Others create folders and dump their e-mails in them. There are still others who create chunks of time in a day, respond to them, and delete them after that, leaving an empty inbox most of the time. The process of managing e-mails, in the end, is personal and doesn’t impact the overall business. Every individual can have the freedom to manage the e-mails the way they want as long as they respond appropriately within a reasonable period of time.

When it comes to building cars at a pace of a minute per car, workers cannot have their own way doing work. Every second counts in a process like this. It is important to develop a process with the least amount of waste that results in a defect-free product that also meets customer specifications. This is nothing but standardized work.

MBOE students standard work
MBOE students used paper plates and other ordinary items to create a new set of standard work during an exercise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute’s Mark Reich, director of strategy and operations, and faculty member Scott Borg recently spent a day with our Master of Business Operational Excellence students discussing standardized work and the nuts and bolts of developing it. Students watched two videos depicting the process of manufacturing parts of a washing machine and refrigerator doors. Reich and Borg had the students break out into teams and focus on the movements that the operators went through and time them. Then, using paper plates, a string, duct tape and A3 paper, our students developed standardized work to improve the process as seen in the picture to the right.

The goal with the exercise, aside from allowing the students to exercise their inner MacGuyver, was to understand the purpose of standard work, which is to do what the customer requires with safety and quality built into the process. This is accomplished with these elements:

–          Takt time: Pace needed to meet the customer demand

–          Working sequence: The most efficient order of operation in single process that yields the highest quality product

–          Standard in-process stock: Minimizing the number of products necessary for operator to keep work repeatable and without stopping.

FMEA: Finding the fix before things go wrong

Here’s a provocative question: Are workplace accidents ever really accidents? For an equally provocative answer, watch this 30-second video from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario – though the squeamish should be warned.

cautionUnanticipated events at work occur because of a combination of multiple factors. It is a result of interaction between human beings and loosely built processes and systems. However, when errors occur, the common response from managers is to remind the employee to do better, rewrite job responsibilities or simply fire him or her. There are better ways to address errors other than blaming and shaming the people who made that error.

To understand why mistakes could occur, I introduced our Master of Business Operational Excellence students to a method called Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). FMEA helps create robust processes and systems by proactively anticipating the vulnerabilities in them, prioritizing the risk they may cause and developing an action plan to address them.

One of the outcomes of an FMEA can be standardized work that addresses the variability in the processes. Standardized work defines the best-known method to perform a particular process that provides the maximum value to the customer. When you develop the standardized work you also need to train your people to perform the work optimally. Gary Butler, an executive in residence with Fisher’s Department of Management Sciences, spoke to our students about Training Within Industry, which focuses on breaking down the work into various job elements, explaining how it is done, and why it is done until the employee internalizes it. This also involves having help available if the employee has any questions or issues when they start doing the work.

The philosophy of lean is to have clear expectations of work, reduce complexities in the processes, and build systems that are mistake-proof or make it easier to detect mistakes. This prevents catastrophic events occurring.

So go ahead and shield your organization before things go wrong!

The flow of the 411

Most of our MBOE students have now finished creating the value-stream maps that they can work with for their capstone projects, the culmination of our year-long program. The flow of information, one of the key components within a value stream, many times gets neglected. It is very important to indicate the flow on the map to highlight the intricacies and the challenges faced by the people who do work on a daily basis.

info flow symbols value stream map
A quick how-to on value-stream map symbols

In health care, the staff might be using the Electronic Medical Record for the most part to access or enter information. But if some staff members don’t have access to all modules, they might wind up making a phone call or writing an e-mail to someone who does. This adds a layer of complexity and non-value added activity to the work.

In manufacturing, lead time sometimes can be hidden when the customer places an order until the sales and operations group has made a decision to go into production.

In transactional processes, information flows through an online system, e-mail, fax, and phone or in-person conversation.

Regardless of your value stream, it’s important to show in detail how information flows. This highlights how long it takes to get to the receiver and what kind of decision he or she makes as a result. Does this information help provide a signal or authorization on whether to produce a product or advance an application – or does it just result in a need for more clarity or information? A value stream must expose all possible wastes that could be affecting lead time.

The key thing to remember here is that whether it’s a pull or a push system, information always flows from left to right in the value stream. You can use symbols in the picture to show manual and electronic information flow. Use symbols to indicate phone or fax or e-mail. Indicate rework, redundancies or breaks in information flow using angry clouds or starbursts.

In the end, any information flows in the value stream must have a purpose. Everything else is noise.

Sponsors: The secret weapon of a successful MBOE student

In Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence program, we just completed the “Gate One” review of our students, the first of four evaluations they undergo. Gates are the points where students are assessed based on the progress they have made on their capstone project. Coaches and faculty follow a rubric that assesses students for their growth as lean thinkers and how they are applying the principles they learned in the classroom and from the gemba to their own organization.

At Fisher, we have created a rubric that helps the faculty and coaches make a fair assessment of the student’s progress irrespective of their experience with operational excellence methods. We assess students based on:

  • The consistency of the problem statement they have chosen to work on for their capstone project;
  • How well they use value stream mapping along with their team to understand the problem; and
  • The application of A3 thinking for their problem solving process.
mboe rubric
A snapshot of our grading rubric for Gate 1

Jumping to solutions addresses only the symptoms. We like to see an in-depth analysis of the root cause of the problem in the form of a cause map and how well the countermeasures are connected with the root causes. In addition, we also assess how students communicate with the coach, sponsor and relevant stakeholders from areas outside the realm of their control. Creativity is yet another dimension we consider to assess the students especially for the countermeasures they implement to successfully solve the problem.

The student’s individual efforts and the coach’s guidance can lead to major progress only if the sponsor plays his or her part well. The more involved the sponsor is, the more likely the student is to succeed. So how can a sponsor get involved?

  •  First of all, we interview the student and the sponsor together before the student can get in the program. The sponsor weighs in on the capstone project that the student chooses to work on. We encourage them to select a project that is expected to have an impact on the strategic goal.
  • We expect our students to keep the sponsor informed on what they learned in class and their plan of action for bringing out improvement.
  • We invite our sponsors to attend any lectures during the MBOE session that might interest them. This way they learn about what the student is learning in class and are in a position to support the students in implementing the tools, methods and strategies they are learning in class. To facilitate this we will start sending out to our sponsors announcements that the students receive that provide the details of each MBOE week session.
  • We also engage the sponsor in evaluating the student and also share the outcomes of the evaluation having reviewed with faculty and other coaches.
  • Last but not least, we also invite them to read this blog to see what was covered in the lectures and also read about some of the concepts and methods used to achieve operational excellence.

The wheel of success turns only when the three cogs – student, coach and sponsor – move synchronously.

MBOE recap: Lessons from the pharmacy

Value stream mapping has been widely used in the manufacturing industry to understand flow. Our MBOE students learned how value stream mapping can be effectively used in a pharmacy setting using a case based on Giant Eagle’s pharmacy, authored by Gary Butler, pictured.

One of the many things that the case addresses is the question that commonly comes up when mapping a value stream in a service industry: Variation in how customers come in. There are peak periods and then there are low periods.

How do you then calculate the demand and takt time? When you draw the current state value stream map, it’s not surprising to see multiple takt times: Shorter during busy times of the day and longer during the slower periods.

In health-care settings it’s very common to have multiple people with varying skills performing various tasks in the process. A value stream can give you the metrics to calculate their utilization, which can help you understand how to allocate resources so that every resource can spend their time on only those activities based on their expertise that add value to their customers.

MBOE recap: Learning from observing

With the theory of value stream mapping internalized, our MBOE program’s health-care cohort traveled to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center while the industry cohort headed to Center for Operational Excellence member Tosoh USA Inc.  A key step before launching a value stream mapping exercise is to go to the gemba. You can’t really map a value stream unless you’ve seen the process and have the relevant data, and you can’t do it accurately without the people who are a part of the process.

MBOE students value-stream mapping following a visit to Wexner Medical Center

Legend has it that Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, had his engineers stand inside a circle for eight hours to observe the process. There is a lot of learning that results from just observing. Once you understand how the process flows you go speak with the people who do the work. Share your findings with them. Ask them to validate the findings. Ask them why they do what you observed. Note the issues they point out and ask them what would make the process better and why.

On the hospital gemba, students went to three different areas: Outpatient endoscopy, inpatient endoscopy and Invasive Prep and Recovery (IPR). Ryan Haley, Peg Pennington, Jill Treece, Jason Swartz and Tim Nelson were key in assisting.

The biggest hurdle in getting started with the value stream map is selecting the correct group of product or services to represent on a single flow map. For example, in IPR, the manager was interested in understanding the flow of EP (Electrophysiology) patients. Within this group there were multiple procedures, such as ablation (that took the longest to perform and recover) and cardioversion (the shortest procedure to perform and recover). There are many more within that range. What procedure should one focus on? The answer: Select the family of procedures that if improved upon will have the most benefit to the patients and organization.

The students spent three hours on the gemba and mapping the process and later presented their findings to hospital leaders. As our students benefit from gemba partnerships, so do these organizations. In fact, many departments have implemented the recommendations made by the students and achieved positive results.

MBOE recap: The cold, harsh reality of the value stream map

Google “value stream map” and you’ll get about 5 million hits. You can read as much as you want on it, but the only way to truly learn is by doing one – and in my experience, you learn more with each new map. Learning to See, co-authored by lean guru John Shook, gave our MBOE students this past week a prime on the value stream map, and in class, they learned much more about the five components to one: Customer, Supplier, Process Steps, Process Metrics and Information Flow.

So why should one care about mapping a value stream? For starters, it helps you answer a ton of questions about what you do day in and day out. Just a sample:

  • Are you producing to takt (customer demand), creating more than is needed or you are so slow?
  • How are you balancing supply with demand?
  • Do you have too many, too few or just the right amount of people doing the work?
  • Are there wastes in the process?
  • Are people undergoing unnecessary movements to get materials or information to do the work?
  • How do all the steps communicate with each other?

A value stream map gives you a snapshot of your process in a given time period. It tells you how much of the process you are studying is actually value adding. It might be shocking for someone mapping the first time to find out that more than 90% of the work they do is non-value added.

Here’s an example of that: Executive in Residence Gary Butler this past week told of his first encounter with MBOE Sensei Paul Kerry, a coach in our program. Kerry asked Butler and his executive team to tell him about their expenses, and Butler explained it by making the drawing above.

Kerry turned around and drew what he said was the reality of the business, which you’ll see below. A value stream map gives you a new lens through which you can look at your business. And what you see isn’t always pretty.

MBOE recap: Opening the toolbox

The MBOE program trains our students to be leading problem-solvers in their organization by providing the tools they need and, more importantly, teaching the behavior that creates lasting change. This week, we started handing out the tools.

Peg Pennington, a senior lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for Operational Excellence, kicked off MBOE’s second day of week one by walking students through the DMAIC methodology. This gets them ready for their journey toward green and black belts in the program, which uses the online Moresteam University modules. DMAIC (check out the breakdown in the image) helps students define, measure, analyze, improve and control the change they are working on in implementing at their organization. The modules will also help them prepare for the Six Sigma exam.

Another important tool is the A3 problem-solving method, which Executive-in-Residence Gary Butler introduced. Most of us are used to seeing a 100-slide PowerPoint describing a problem and all the steps that were taken to address it. With the A3 method, it’s all on an 11×17 sheet, and not just by writing in fine print but by being very specific about the problem.  It’s not only a good problem-solving tool but a great communication tool. An attention span, after all, does much better with one slide than 100!

We also wasted no time getting students to their first gemba. The assignment: Visit various areas in Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State and Riverside Methodist Hospital, speak with people there and develop a problem statement. The goal was to help students understand that what you hear from people the first time are mostly symptoms. Observing the process and getting data to support the problem really help in the end. On a short visit with no data, a situation you might find yourself in at some point like our students, it’s important to keep these things in mind:

  • Keep an open mind. What you think is a problem may not be the problem.
  • Don’t walk in with a solution. When you have a solution in mind, you tend to listen less and lose out on the information you could potentially receive from people/frontline staff.
  • Listen. Make a note of issues/symptoms. They might not be directly related to the problem, but you might find good ideas to help people understand what’s in it for them when you come back to implement countermeasures and gain their buy-in.

MBOE recap: There’s an app for that

For Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence cohort this year, paper is so 2011.

MBOE took the leap to become a paper-free program this year with each student of the 2012-13 cohort receiving an iPad. Students can now access all materials on the iPad using iTunes University, type in notes, and then access them anytime without flipping through pages within a huge binder.

ipad apple
All MBOE students in the new cohort receive iPads with all course materials loaded. (Image courtesy Apple)

A big thanks to Randy Spears and Jacob Bane in Fisher’s Information Technology Services, who helped make it happen and were on hand to walk students through the various applications and modules on orientation day this week.

Orientation takes place not only for our students but for coaches. As they were briefed in a separate room, eventually everyone got together to get acquainted.  Bill Constantino senior partner at the W3 Group, introduced students the concept of Toyota Kata, a method that Toyota uses to innovate their products with built-in quality. He talked about change and what it takes human beings to change by posing this question: Why do humans have the ability to develop new neural synapses? That’s because humans have the ability to learn new things. Why is it then change is so hard? That’s because the uncertainty that lies between a current condition and target condition is not addressed in a way that facilitates change, Constantino said. So how do you address it? The answer is deliberate practice and asking the right questions over and over with a coach helping to do that. Some helpful questions to ask:

  • What is the current state?
  • What is the target condition?
  • What idea will you implement?
  • What do you expect to happen?
  • What did you learn?

The more people consistently follow this process, he said, change will become second nature.

With the work of MBOE also comes some play. We hosted an evening reception after orientation for students to relax and mingle with each other. Many students spent time with their coaches to get an understanding of the process, a great benefit the program offers by giving up-close access to major operational excellence experts.

With orientation finished, students began their year-long quest with the first official day.

Peg Pennington, Executive Director of COE, introduced the concept of systems thinking and exploring all possible root causes of any problem. The key to coming up with the right countermeasures/solutions to any problem is:

  1. Define the  problem
  2. Understand the root causes of the problem

According to Peg, there are various tools available for root cause analysis, most of which are limited in some way. A cause map helps to deep dive into all possible reasons that led to the problem and also helps link to the corporate that is impacted because of the problem. Peg drove the point home interactively using various fun exercises.

In the afternoon, Gary Butler reinforced the learning on cause mapping by walking the students through analyzing the reasons behind the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle that killed seven astronauts in 1986. He also stressed upon defining metric and defining them (Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Actionable, Relevant/Reliable and Timely).


MBOE recap: Simplicity doesn’t have to be complex

Fisher Senior Lecturer Mrinalini Gadkari is breaking down a recent week in the life of Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence program. Stay tuned this week for more. 

Lynn Kelley, VP of continuous improvement at Union Pacific, recently challenged students with two really interesting questions:

  • If complexity is so bad from a lean perspective, why is it prevalent in our organizations?
  • And why is simplicity resisted?
Lynn Kelley Union Pacific
Lynn Kelley, at a recent COE women’s leadership forum.

Lynn’s presentation to our MBOE students focused on the criteria behind the success and failure of lean implementations. From her current position and previous role as process improvement VP for Textron, Kelley offered up suggestions on how to develop, execute and sustain strategy.

But back to those questions. Kelley offered up this explanation: The tools we learn in continuous improvement can help us simplify processes. But continuous improvement is fraught with pitfalls. I’ll close with a few of those she listed:

  • We make continuous improvement overly complicated. In other words, “Just do it” becomes a long project.
  • Our solution might end up adding complexity or bureaucracy.
  • Our measurement of the initiative’s process might add complexity or bureaucracy.

Beyond being a great process improvement coach, Kelley has worked regularly with COE in the past through its women’s forums, helping our members fight the unproductive competition that often arises among women in the workplace. She’s pictured in this post at a recent COE forum.