Lean Article

Jim Benson’s picture

By: Jim Benson

We are all cursed with “surprises” at work. We come in, sit down, get ready for the day. We select a task to start on, and about halfway through, it explodes on us. The seemingly simple task now has 30 subtasks all lined up, ready to destroy our day.

This is stressful. Since we’re likely already overloaded, this new surprise just adds more work to the day and delay to our backlog.

However, if we’ve limited our work in progress (WIP), we look at these “cans of worms” a little differently. They still might be annoying, but they aren’t quite so stressful. We understand that, like it or not, the amount of work necessary to get this task done has increased, and we can adjust. The slack we’ve created in our schedule and our work by limiting WIP allows us to adjust gracefully (it’s still OK to gripe) and plow through the extra work.

First published April 18, 2016, on the Personal Kanban blog.

Harish Jose’s picture

By: Harish Jose

Today I’d like to talk about kaizen—specifically, the order for kaizen. The term has come to mean “continuous improvement,” but kaizen originally translates from Japanese as “change for better.” To help clarify this useful concept, I’ll present three different views for approaching kaizen: Taiichi Ohno’s, Shigeo Shingo’s, and Hiroyuki Hirano’s.

Taiichi Ohno’s view (semi-strategic)

Taiichi Ohno is known as the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS). He has stated that there is a proper order for kaizen. This is:
• Sagyo kaizen (operations improvement)
• Setsubi kaizen (equipment improvement)
• Kotei kaizen (process improvement)

Ken Levine’s picture

By: Ken Levine

One poorly understood concept in lean Six Sigma is how much to “stretch” when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. These letters are defined as S—specific; M—measureable; A—assignable, attainable, or achievable; R—realistic, reasonable, or relevant; and T—time-based or time-bound. Regardless of the different interpretations, what do we really mean by these terms?

Clearly, we don’t want to set ourselves (or others) up with impossibly high goals or low-level objectives that discourage motivation. If you have worked in sales or other jobs where at least a portion of your wages were based on pay-for-performance, you know what I’m talking about. How can a manager know what an individual is capable of selling? How can a team leader know what is applicable to an improvement project?

Multiple Authors
By: Kimberly Watson-Hemphill, Kristine Nissen Bradley

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the new book, Innovating Lean Six Sigma, by Kimberly Watson-Hemphill and Kristine Nissen Bradley.

Like every company, healthcare businesses do their work through processes, and any process can be studied and improved using basic lean Six Sigma methods. Figure 1 shows a process view of a healthcare company, where the core value stream is built around having a patient arrive, receive treatment (or not), and then leave. The treatments vary, and how the entrance and exit take place will change from patient to patient and facility to facility, but the basic flow of entrance–treatment–exit is universal.

As with any other business, if the core value stream of a healthcare organization is to function effectively, there have to be many support processes. These include the administrative functions that allow the hospital to run effectively and the supply chain operations that provide the needed supplies and equipment.

MIT News’s picture

By: MIT News


In March 2011, Leonardo Bonanni was preparing to defend his Ph.D. thesis about Sourcemap, software that lets consumers map every connection of a product supply chain on a digital map, when tragedy struck in Japan. Although the deadly earthquake and tsunami occurred half a world away, the events had an unexpected affect on Bonanni and Sourcemap.

In the aftermath, automobile, electronic, chemical, and retail sectors worldwide, which relied on Japanese manufacturers for parts and materials, suffered massive shortages. Few affected companies knew enough about the complex Japanese supply chain to respond to such an immense disruption.

“Companies hadn’t been keeping good mapping records of where their suppliers were, or where their suppliers’ suppliers were, so they asked us to deploy [Sourcemap] inside their supply chains,” says Bonanni. “All of a sudden these maps—the first to show products all the way from raw materials to consumers, every step of the way—became a critical tool for manufacturing companies.”

Motivated by this incident, Bonanni launched Sourcemap commercially so companies could keep better tabs on their supply chains. Today, dozens of pharmaceutical firms, food producers, and clothing and electronics companies use Sourcemap.

Matthew Barsalou’s picture

By: Matthew Barsalou

The start of a failure investigation may involve brainstorming, but empirical methods will be required to actually identify a problem's cause. Implementing an improvement action without a confirmed root cause risks a reoccurrence of the issue because the true root cause has yet to be addressed.

The Ishikawa diagram, a cause-and-effect diagram created by Kaoru Ishikawa, is a common and useful tool for investigating failures and can be effective in facilitating brainstorming sessions. However, it may not be specific enough for a root-cause analysis team to identify evaluation methods for the hypothesized causes listed in the Ishikawa diagram (aka fishbone diagram). Additionally, once completed, the diagram contains great information, but isn't very useable or actionable by itself.

Fortunately, this weakness can be addressed easily by using a simple spreadsheet to translate brainstormed ideas into actionable hypotheses. I call such a spreadsheet a "Perkin tracker," named after the person who introduced me to the concept. Such a spreadsheet can be used to turn concepts in an Ishikawa diagram into hypotheses that can then be evaluated empirically.

Scott Berkun’s picture

By: Scott Berkun

Many of our most popular stories of discovery are portrayed as accidents or matters of luck. We love these stories because they make creativity seem easy and fun. Nevertheless, they are misleading.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “How to Cultivate The Art of Serendipity,” author Pagan Kennedy wrote, “A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, X-ray imaging.”

What’s overlooked is that these accidents were earned. Each of these professionals committed themselves to years of work chasing hard problems, and then, when an accident happened, they chose not to ignore it, as most of us would. They chose to study the accident. Who among us studies our accidents? We mostly run and hide from them. Being curious about our own mistakes is a far more interesting attitude than merely chases serendipity. Capitalizing on so-called “accidents” is an excellent notion that Kennedy mentions, however briefly, and I wish it were the focus of the entire article.

Ryan E. Day’s picture

By: Ryan E. Day

Sponsored Content

I can tell you all about the California coast, its cultural and economic dynamics, my favorite hideaway beaches and eateries, and I can attest to the wisdom of never turning your back to the surf. I know these things because I've lived in The Golden State most of my life, but I've never ever been to Japan. All I know about its culture is what I’ve gleaned from the news, B movies about giant radioactive lizards, and books that espouse kaizen culture. Woefully inadequate insight when trying to understand and implement lean and kaizen training.

Mike Richman’s picture

By: Mike Richman

Of all the tools in the lean toolkit, 5S is the one that has proven to be the most effective—and also the most elusive. It’s effective because the actions needed to sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain mirror the deeper, critically important philosophy of thinking about value, waste, and flow with a “big picture” mindset. Once an organization has adapted lean thinking and initiated 5S projects, improvement begins to accelerate in all operational phases.

However, lasting success with 5S can also be elusive because that last “S,” representing the sustainment of the effort, must constantly be nurtured. It has been said, by Quality Digest Daily contributor Mike Micklewright, among others, that the sustain step of 5S is extremely difficult; it is, in fact, probably the hardest step of all. Successful sustainment means the difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement. The former is preferable because it reflects a steady, ever-present attitude of finding ways to do things better. The latter implies a stuttering series of start-and-stop efforts, with lots of ongoing and unnecessary course corrections.

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