5. CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVING

You are here in your Lean journey:

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Picture this: you are finally a Lean Manager. You have worked hard to implement many improvements. You now know the value you deliver. You have every step of your value stream mapped. Processes are flowing. Pull Systems are established and working perfectly. Life is good.

And then things start to go back to the old ways. Processes are messy, waste is generated, people are overburdened and the quality of your delivery starts to drop.

That is a common scenario in organizations that are becoming Lean. And that happens when managers forget the fifth part of the Lean transformation: Continuous Improvement, also known as Kaizen.

KAIZEN: a philosophy, a mindset of continuous improvement. A culture with management systems that allows the organization to generate and review improvements in a cyclical way.

To be able to have Kaizen as part of their day-to-day, a Lean manager must understand that:

  • Kaizen is an ever-going process, not an event that ends
  • The goal is to always maximize the value delivered and to reduce waste
  • Kaizen should be a philosophy that is followed across the whole company, not just in one department
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CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT 
TECHNIQUES AND LIFE SAVERS

For being very linked to cultural and behavioral aspects of the organization, the implementation of a Continuous Improvement mindset may seem like a very intangible goal to be achieved.

But it doesn’t need to be.

There are techniques that help Lean managers to make sure they are keeping the Lean spirit alive and seeking to find new ways to reduce waste and deliver more value.

Here are the best of them: 

PDCA

The idea here is simple: to have a culture of Continuous Improvement, there must be a process that guarantees that new improvement opportunities are being seen and acted upon in a cyclical, never-stopping way.

The PDCA methodology can be implemented if these 4 steps are religiously and continuously followed:

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1. Plan: what’s wrong? What do you want to improve next? How are you going to do this? Have a plan and set goals;

2. Do: effectively perform the necessary action to follow the plan. This is the step where skills will be tested;

3. Check: how effective is the solution you’ve just implemented? Measure your success considering the goals you had set and find your bottlenecks;

4. Act: considering the observed results, do what is necessary to improve them until you reach the goal. This is the step where you correct possible mistakes.

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ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS (RCA) WITH THE 5 WHYS

Usually, it’s a lot easier to see a problem than its roots. And that can be an even bigger problem because when we see only the problem itself, that’s all that we fix. And if we don’t fix the roots as well, chances are that the problem will grow and appear again.

To find the roots and get rid of them, you can use the 5 Whys technique, which is pretty simple: you should keep repeating the question “why?” so that each answer lays the foundation to the next question, until an answer (usually the 5th) is “I don’t know” and reveals the real cause of a problem.

For example, if a client complains that they received an improper charge:

  • Why is he/she complaining? Because of the improper charge
  • Why was there an improper charge? Because there was a flaw in the charging process
  • Why was there a flaw in the charging process? Because it’s manually done
  • Why is it manually done? Because we didn’t prioritize its automation
  • Why didn’t we prioritize its automation? I don’t know.

Here we can see that the root of the problem that generated the complaint is something that was hidden way below: the fact that automation wasn’t prioritized. That is the real problem.

A3

All you need here is a piece of paper size A3 and the ability to work collaboratively.

The idea is to involve people from every hierarchical level in the problem-solving process. That is great because more diversity means more different ideas and more different ideas mean more innovative solutions. And, as a bonus, you get a more engaged team. 

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There are 7 parts that must be discussed and written in the A3 paper:

  1. Background: what are you talking about and why?
  2. Current Conditions: what is the situation now?
  3. Targets/Goals: what exactly is the expected outcome of this process?
  4. Analysis: why is there a problem and why is this process necessary? You can use the 5 Whys here;
  5. Proposed Countermeasures: what does the group think should be done and why?
  6. Implementation Plan: how will you implement this effectively?
  7. Follow Up: how will you ensure that all the talk will become action?

GEMBA WALK

One of the best ways to uncover improvement opportunities is to get to the Gemba and see things for yourself. After all, the Gemba is the place where the magic happens and where value is created.

The Gemba Walk is a process for managers to get valuable insights into the value stream of the organization and see new ways to support the team. 

This process is also collaborative and the idea is that employees feel free to provide details about what is done, how and why.

Important things to remember when getting to the Gemba:

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Have a focus and a plan: don’t just get there. Know what you should pay attention to

Prepare the team: those being observed should know what’s going on and why that is important, otherwise they won’t collaborate

Follow the Value Stream: take the walk following the steps necessary to generate value so that you can get a clearer view

Focus on process, not people: the idea is not to check who’s doing good work or not. The idea is to find opportunities to improve processes

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Ask questions and document observations: don’t trust your memory! Write everything down to make sure you will remember every insight you had

Walk with more people: more people means more insights and less space for biases

Follow up with employes: the results of the Gemba walk might not be so immediate, so it’s important to make sure employees know that you are taking action even before results actually start showing

And then do it all over again!

QUALITY BUILD IN: HOW TO DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME EVERY TIME

It’s a lot easier to submit your car to a periodic inspection than to deal with the stress of being stuck in the road because of an unexpected technical flaw, right? It’s better to do the right thing at first than to deal with the damage after. 

That’s why one important aspect of Lean and of the Continuous Improvement culture is that it’s easier, cheaper, more productive and less wasteful to build quality into the products, services and processes since the very beginning rather than fixing things along the way after the damage is already done.

So the goal for the Lean manager here is to have a high quality in every single step of the value stream in order to get it right the first time, no mistakes.

That’s what we call Quality Build In.

QUALITY BUILD IN:a proactive style of management that seeks to make sure every step of every process will have the best possible quality in order to minimize mistakes.

Since it’s a proactive style of management, there are some actions and standards that must be observed when building quality into your delivery:

  • It all starts with the people: the team must take proactive action whenever an issue appears. That can even mean stop the work until the problem is fixed in order to preserve quality
  • The team must also feel free to make suggestions, no matter their hierarchical status. Lean managers should encourage that
  • Defects are not acceptable because they are a waste of time and resources. Seek to establish mistake-proofing devices (Poka-Yokes, in Lean language) and other ways to make sure every step of the process is completed perfectly

POKA-YOKES: error-proofing mechanisms and practices to make human errors difficult, or even impossible, to happen.

  • That means that if by accident, a defect appears, it should never be able to move to the next step of the stream. It must be corrected immediately
  • The more standardized and clear the work is, the better. If everyone knows what is expected and how things should be done, the chances of mistakes appearing are reduced

And we’re almost there! Now that you know each one of the 5 core principles of Lean management, let’s see how you can put all of that in motion.

BEFORE YOU GO ON, IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

  • To only implement the steps of Lean is not enough to have a Lean organization. It is vital to have a culture of Kaizen and to seek opportunities to improve processes in a cyclical way
  • One way to do that is by planning what you need to do, doing it and checking the results, then acting to improve the plan. A good tool for planning this is the A3 technique
  • Always investigate the root causes of your problems so that you don’t fix only the problem, but also its root. For that, use the 5 Whys
  • Get to the Gemba, listen to the team, make notes and find opportunities to improve all kinds if processes with the Gemba Wal
  • Lean is about doing it right the first time to avoid waste, so make sure you have the right standards and policies to help the team to achieve that

FLY, LEAN MANAGER!

That was the very first step in your Lean journey. Congratulations!

You are now ready to say goodbye to waste, to delight your customers with all the value you will deliver and to become an even better Lean manager every day.

Since this is only the beginning, here’s some advice: be ready to read this hands-on Lean implementation guide, then get to the Gemba and Lean it!

Go to Implementation guide