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Where Does Improvement Begin and How do you Sustain it?

Standards. We’re all familiar with the fact that adherence to standards is critical to achieving operational excellence, but have we ever really looked at the connection between adherence to standards, deviation from standards, data collection, and sustainment? To take a look at standards from this perspective, we sat down with Michael Kuta, managing partner with Productivity Inc. and 40 year veteran of the manufacturing industry.
 
Mike simply states that “all improvement begins with adherence to standards. An ideal standard is one that exists, is proven, communicated, and used by everyone. Ideal standards are reliable; reliable standards are predictable.”
 
A simple concept really, and one we take for granted in our daily lives. Consider for example, the importance of standards in making and doing things in 4 industries we interface with on a regular basis: automotive, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, food. Absent of adherence to standards, what a mess we’d be in…think about it! Now, think about your own industry…thousands of workplace standards must come together in content, sequence, and timing to produce a quality product or service, on time, in the right quantity, then repeated over and over again. Straightforward? Yes. Easy to put into practice? Not necessarily.
 
To illustrate, Mike refers to a story told by longtime colleague, early-innovator and Lean thinker, Dr. Thomas Jackson. It’s the story of Dr. Ram (Ramachandruda), a well-known Indian statistician. Dr. Ram always asked his new clients the following questions:

  1. Do you have standards?
  2. Do you adhere to them?
  3. If so, then show me!

 
As you may have guessed, most respondents answered “yes” to the first question, “not always” to the second question, and struggled to come up with a reply to the third. Based on these results, Dr. Ram would tell his clients, and rightly so, that they would be wasting their money if they paid him to apply even the most basic statistics where there were no standards or adherence to standards.
 
Starting to see the connection here?
 
Recognizing that we can only measure variation when standards are in place and being adhered to, since a frame of reference is needed in order to analyze data. Consider this: in the movie Jurassic Park, in the presence of a T-Rex, Dr. Alan Grant says to his associates, “don’t move, he cannot see us if we don’t move.” And, of course, Einstein taught us “all motion is relative.” Data movement is the needed frame of reference.
 
If standards aren’t being adhered to, we cannot measure deviation to standard. If we can’t measure deviation, we can’t reduce variability. Mike emphasizes that this is where data analytics come in…this is why we always hear that Lean and TPM are data driven processes.
 
Let’s look at standards another way – as a process to guide an organizational transformation from current to a desired future state, known as Hoshin Kanri, or policy deployment. A key tool in this process is PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). It’s in the Act cycle of PCDA that we find experimentation, and it’s via experimentation that we create standards – standard work – which is what links daily work to our strategic goals.
 
Mike is careful to reiterate Dr. Jackson’s sentiment that standards aren’t an outcome of the Hoshin Kanri process, Hoshin Kanri is a comprehensive system of standard work. Standards are being created throughout the PDCA cycle; each step of the Hoshin Kanri process in itself is setting a standard that needs to be sustained.
 
So often we hear of organizations struggling with continuous improvement and sustainment… for all those having these issues, a counter-measure to consider is revisiting the context and strategy of your Daily Management System (another outcome of the Hoshin Kanri process). It’s time to rethink and review your DMS governing policies and charter that guide the DMS intent and purpose.
 
For starters:

  • Attend a few tier-group daily stand-up meetings (every day for a week)
    • Listen to the dialogue; what’s being communicated?
    • Listen to the out-going messages and listen to the in-coming signals (remember sonar, send a signal and wait for a response?)
    • Does what you’re hearing represent the disciplines needed to achieve your aspirations? Is there accountability? What needs reinforcing on a daily basis?

 
As you go about your work each day, leverage your interactions with people. Use each encounter as an opportunity to convey expectations (send signals) and teach the significance of standards and the adherence to standards.
 
“Without standard work there is no kaizen (CI)” – Taichii Ohno
 
Remember: standard work is the benchmark of operational excellence and the Lean enterprise. All improvement begins with adherence to standard.

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