When implemented Continuously, Minor Improvements can have Large Effects on organizations. Master Facilitator & Master Black Belt David Galloway observes how strong leadership, innovative thinking, and lean six sigma principles can be used to drive significant safety and process improvements.
When was the last time that you or someone on your team proposed a crazy, unique, absurd, outlandish, or otherwise unconventional idea? Has this ever happened? What kind of reception did the innovative idea (and the person who proposed it) receive?
William Barnett, Professor of Business Leadership, Strategy, and Organizations at Stanford, discussed this topic as part of a recent webinar. He described a “thought experiment” that helps us to consider what happens when someone comes up with a novel idea. This concept aligns with the notion of how the fear of failure can influence whether innovative ideas are surfaced.
Barnett asked the hypothetical question, “When you have a good idea, does everybody have to agree with that idea for it to be correct?” (Most people would say, “No”).
Barnett then asked, “When we have an innovative idea, what is often the first thing we do? We ask others, ‘What do you think?’ “If the people we ask don’t like our innovative idea, what do we do then? We often ask someone else. Basically, we are looking for affirmation that the idea that we have is a good one.”
Habits. We all develop them. Good habits can be helpful in our daily lives, while poor habits can result in unintended consequences which may not be known for a long time. This discussion will briefly review how habits can influence risk-taking, as well as the basic neuroscience of habit formation. Let’s start with a definition. A habit can be defined as something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way so that it becomes involuntary. Examples of some common habits include brushing your teeth, answering the phone when it rings, stopping at a favorite coffee shop each morning, or washing your hands after using the restroom (although this is not a habit for a surprisingly large proportion of the American population). We also develop habits in the way that we do work. Most times, these work habits are beneficial, as it frees our mind for activities that require more conscious thought. However, there are situations where a habit can have negative outcomes. Examples include the long-term habit of smoking or perhaps eating a high calorie dessert after every meal.
It’s human nature to feel good about effecting positive change. Perhaps you have removed some unnecessary steps from a process and now it is easier to perform a task. Or you have modified the way that work was being done and now there is less rework. Maybe your team has agreed on a more effective way to communicate and share information among various working groups. It could be that you identified some “critical X’s” to control and now there is less variation in the process. In any case, making small improvements that have a large effect can produce a great deal of satisfaction. After all, this is why we invested time and effort – to become better at whatever we do. It’s time to celebrate!
Unfortunately, improvements can be temporary. After the team disbands, the process can revert back to the previous condition or people drift back to the old way of doing things. Without something to prevent this regression, it is only a matter of time before any improvements (and the associated benefits) are in the rear view mirror. In the Lean Six Sigma world, the tool that is most often used to maintain the gains is a Control Plan. It is the centerpiece of the “C” step in the DMAIC methodology. A control plan should be used whenever you want to keep hard-won improvements in place.
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One of the foundational Lean tools is QCO (quick changeover), which is also sometimes referred to as SMED (single minute exchange of die). SMED includes a set of techniques that make it possible to perform equipment set-up and changeover operations in less than 10 minutes. Not every changeover can be completed in this amount of time. However, any operation would benefit from using this Lean tool if there is a requirement for:
a change in “lot” types
a process or set-up change
For this discussion, I will use the term QCO as being interchangeable with SMED. Most of the time, the opportunity for implementing QCO in a process is driven by the need for greater flexibility, quicker delivery, better quality, or higher productivity. These are indeed significant benefits that are realized – because this approach identifies and removes some of the eight sources of waste. But there is an equally significant benefit to assessing a process and implementing QCO: the resulting process changes often make setups simpler & easier – and therefore faster and safer. The following case studies demonstrate how using QCO principles can lead to work which is not only completed in less time, but is also safer.Continue Reading
Humans are complicated. While some of our base emotions and behaviors are easy to understand, there are times when we appear to make irrational decisions when faced with personal change. For example, behavioral economists have identified a specific instance when we apparently place a very different value on something depending upon whether we own it or not. Consider the following scenario.
Suppose that a team performed an analysis on the layout of a work area. The team concluded that a significant amount of waste of motion and waste of transportation would be removed if the work stations in the cell are re-arranged. With a proposed new floor layout, each of the operators would walk shorter distances as they moved among the stations. It would make it easier for them to accomplish their work each day. The location of the new work stations would be comparable in every way to the existing work stations – tools, space, lighting, climate, proximity to the work. This sounds like a positive outcome for everyone!
However, when the proposed plan is shared with the crew, it is met with surprising resistance by some of the operators. This would seem to be an illogical decision. These operators would rather walk further (and therefore work harder) than accept these minor personal changes to their work flow! How can this be?
Years ago, I moved to a community in a different state for a new job. While driving to work on the first day, I was involved in a number of near-miss automobile accidents. Let me describe a risky driving behavior, which I quickly learned was “the way we drive around here”.
Drivers approached an intersection with a traffic light. The green light turned to yellow. As expected, one or two cars entered the intersection while the light was still yellow. But what I observed next surprised me. After the light turned red, the next three drivers continued through the intersection. Remarkably, the cars in the opposing lanes (who had a green light) paused for 3 or 4 seconds for the red light violators to clear, then drove through the intersection. When the light turned red for opposing lanes of traffic, the same behavior repeated. The unspoken norm was that a “red light” meant that 3 more cars were allowed to pass through the intersection….the 4th car should stop. The amazing thing to me was that somehow everyone knew that this was the rule. At first, I thought this was an isolated incident. As I soon discovered, this happened at every intersection.
Now imagine someone who had never been to this town (me) approaching an intersection – and expecting that red means stop and green means go. It took me four or five close encounters (of the wrong kind) at intersections with local drivers to figure out what was happening. I quickly adapted to the local behavior. By the time I arrived back home, I was Driver #3 going through a red light. No consequences. No tickets. In fact, local police cars were following the same protocol! (I learned later that 3 cars was indeed the limit. If the police observed a 4th car driving through a red light, that person was always ticketed).
What was going on here? How could every local person in this large community end up developing and accepting a norm that was clearly violating the standard? One explanation could be the concept of entropy. The dictionary provides one definition as follows:
en·tro·py lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.