Note that I mentioned “tools.” Lean has birthed a plethora of tools and methods, many with nonsensical acronyms. I’ve listed many of them in the glossary but here are the core tools that we’ll use later on in this book.
Kaizen and the Kaizen Event: The term means “change” and is at the heart of continuous improvement efforts to reduce waste. The Kaizen Event has been popularized by multitudes of consultants who somehow believe a week is the optimal time period to create a single significant change. Hogwash. As long as you thoroughly understand the current condition and then develop, implement, and test improvements you can create meaningful change.
Value Stream Mapping: This is basically a flowchart that shows the sequence of steps in a process, from which you can identify wasteful and value-added steps. Typically 75% of the process steps are waste – remember you are looking at it from the perspective of the customer, not what you think needs to take place.
Flow or Just In Time (JIT): Aligning and balancing the sequence of value-creating process steps to reduce inventory and create steady activity and throughput.
5S: 5S refers to the English terms for the five steps of workplace organization: sort, straighten, sweep, shine, and sustain. By organizing the workplace you reduce inventory and thereby required space, and reduce the time it takes to find tools and parts. Organized workplaces are also safer, so some companies add safety as a sixth “s.”
Quick Changeover and Set-up Reduction: Reducing the time it takes to set up and change from one process to another by analyzing and reordering activities. Quick changeover was the first tool we implemented to get the medical device molding operation under control and back on schedule.
Standard Work: A very defined sequence of activities required to complete a process. For a shop floor operator this can be the sequence of adding components to an assembly, for a manager this can be the specific metrics to be reviewed, for someone at home – especially the overly anal or neurotic (or efficient?) – this can be the morning get-ready-for-work routine.
Go to the Gemba or Gemba Walk: The term “gemba” means “the source.” In the lean world it is where value is being created. The factory floor, office process, or even the kitchen. Lean stresses the concept of “see for yourself” – go to the gemba and see what is really going on. You cannot get all the facts and make the right decisions by sitting in a conference room.
Visual Management and Control: When you walk into a lean factory the first thing you see are lots of whiteboards and signs with metrics and status information. Team members are creating charts detailing rejects, capturing improvement ideas on flipcharts, and identifying processes by signs. Information truly is power, information is enabling, creating respect for people.
Hoshin Kanri: In it’s simplest form hoshin kanri is a method to align long-term strategies with intermediate term objectives and short term improvement programs. Many lean organizations link hoshin into strategic planning activities. We’ll talk much more about this later.
Mistake Proofing or Poka Yoke: Creating methods that prevent errors from occurring in the first place. A simple example is with the 3.5″ diskette drive in your computer – or for the younger out there – the USB port. They are mechanically designed so the diskette or USB device can only be inserted one way.
So those are the core tools. Unfortunately many organizations become “tool heads” – and jump into a focus on implementing the tools with understanding why. All of the tools can create improvements, but first you need to ask “what is the problem I’m trying to solve?” Then and only then identify the most appropriate tool.
To compound the difficulty, many lean tools are counterintuitive – such as one piece flow being more efficient that batch processing. If you had to send out a couple hundred Christmas letters would you address the envelope, insert the letter, seal the envelope, and add the stamp one at a time? Or would you address all of the envelopes at once? Guess which process is faster with less chance for errors. Yep, completing an entire stamped, addressed envelope with letter, one at a time. Try it.