The Customer Buys Your Value Stream
By John Compton
The way we think drives what we do. This is certainly true when it comes to striving for improvement in our businesses. Common thinking among printing companies is that they are comprised of various departments and functions such as sales, customer service, prepress, press, finishing, etc. People are hired and trained, equipment is purchased and installed, and procedures are established for the work in each area. Employees are encouraged to do their best, and if possible, to make improvements.
The point is, if you think that a printing business is mostly a collection of departments and technologies, each of which needs to become the best it can be, you probably won’t gain much benefit from your improvement efforts. Why? Because improving a function in isolation of its upstream and downstream partners leads to sub-optimization. A printing company is a complex series of processes that must work together as a system to flow value to customers.
Figure 1: The Customer Buys Your Value Stream
All value produced by a printing company is the end result of its processes which, when strung together, create a value stream. Customers are only interested in the value flowing to them through your value streams. However, these processes are loaded with the 7 Lean wastes: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, and defects. These wastes are non-value adding activities that create costs and delays, things for which customers are not willing to pay.
The reason you should think of your business as a series of related processes that create a value stream is because this is what your customers buy. Your customers don’t just buy the goods and services you produced today: they are going to buy (hopefully) the goods and services you produce tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. Therefore they, in essence, by your value stream.
I’ve conducted value stream assessments of printing companies for large print buyers who understand that they are buying a capability to produce quality products month after month when they enter into a contractual relationship. They also understand that over time, their quality and service needs will increase as marketplace competition advances. They know that their print suppliers must be continually improving their value streams to meet those advancing needs. That’s why they look for companies who have documented their value streams, are routinely improving them, and are creating greater value for them.
By documenting your value stream through value stream mapping, you create a clearer understanding of the relationships among departments both from a product and information flow perspective. When you put your “gemba boots” on and take the time to actually walk the stream from order entry to shipping, you will learn a great deal. You will discover impediments to flow, substantial amounts of waste, and gaps in effective and efficient communications, all of which lead you to undertake improvements to your value stream in a way that maximizes value flowing to the customer and reduces waste. All employee should understand how, through their work in the value stream, they add value for the customer. When they see activities that do not add value, for example, one or more of the 7 wastes, these activities should be targeted for elimination. This is the essence of continual improvement.
Bringing your eyes for waste and continual improvement to the value stream and acting on what you find creates a win-win situation: costs decline for you and value increases for your customer. When everyone in the company understands that your customers buy your value stream, continual improvement of it can become a clear management priority.
Great printed products and services come from great value streams!
Test Your CI Knowledge
PIA has developed a 10-question quiz to help industry professionals evaluate their current level of knowledge about continuous improvement. We encourage you to take the multiple choice quiz and see how you do. All who complete the quiz will be entered in a March 2 drawing for a Visa gift card. It should take about 5 minutes of your time. Take the quiz today and see how you do!
A Quote to Remember
By John Compton
I’m a collector of quotes. A good quote captures an idea in few words. It cuts through the fog and gets to the heart of the matter. Over the next few months I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes and explaining what I take from them. I’ll start with this quote from Paul Akers, owner of FastCap (supplier of woodworking tools) and leader of the 2-second Lean approach to improvement:
“Waste is like gravity, it’s constantly dragging you down.”
What a great description of waste! Paul, who spoke at our 2015 Continuous Improvement Conference, was referring to the traditional 7 wastes of Lean: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, and defects. His words help me to understand that these wastes are always present in our businesses and they are creating increases in time and costs, limiting our competitiveness. Failing to understand the continuing presence of these wastes saddles us with long lead times, higher costs, and limited product quality. In many cases, these wastes have been in our operations for so long we’re not even aware of them. They’re in plain sight, but we walk right past them. In fact, we’ve planned into our budgets the costs in time and dollars these wastes create. We’ve adapted to them, just like we have with gravity.
Everyone in your company should be familiar with these 7 wastes and practice looking for them. Seeing the waste is the first step to removing it. Once employees are able to find the waste, they need help in getting rid of it. This involves training and coaching by managers and a culture that expects improvement to be a part of the work. By using the brains of the people in the gemba (the actual place where work is done) to identify and reduce these burdens, you’ll be minimizing the 8th waste of Lean as well—failure to use the brainpower of all your people.
Don’t let the gravity of waste pull you down any longer. Get it gone and keep it gone!
Shaping Your Habits for Success
By Jim Workman
You may not think of habits and continuous improvement (CI) as being intertwined, but they are. The ability to form and sustain good habits is central to perpetuating continuous improvement. Organizing team meetings, coordinating gemba walks, updating dashboards, and putting items in their assigned spots are habits practiced by CI-oriented firms.
Conversely, the inability to be aware of and change bad habits—leaving the workplace a mess, ignoring employee ideas, and not digging into the root cause of problems, for example—makes companies vulnerable to competitors and changing customer requirements.
Good habits are what allow companies to make small improvements on a daily basis. The difference tiny improvements can make over time is astounding. One company scheduled to present a case study at next year’s Continuous Improvement Conference developed a habit of routinely asking employees for improvement ideas. By the time the company received The Shingo Prize for operational excellence, it was implementing an average of over 30 ideas per employee per year. The pace of improvement might have been invisible from the outside, but over several years the compounding effect of those improvements led the company to significant market share gains.
If you want to learn how to build good habits and break bad ones, the recent book Atomic Habits by James Clear should be on your reading list. The book provides readers with Four Laws of Behavior Change: a set of strategies and techniques for starting a positive habit and repeating it until it’s ingrained. The book draws on biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology to make its points.
A core tenet of the book is that to achieve results, individuals and companies should focus less on goals and more on systems that foster good habits. Bad habits repeat themselves, Clear says, not because you are necessarily lacking motivation, but because you have the wrong system for change.
Clear’s Four Laws of Behavior Change for creating a good habit:
First Law—Make it Obvious
Second Law—Make it Attractive
Third Law— Make it Easy
Fourth Law— Make it Satisfying
While those may sound simple, the book offers detailed instruction and multiple chapters for how to put each law to work. Each of the laws also has an inverse for ridding yourself of bad habits. The first step is making your habits obvious by writing down your daily habits, which is more difficult than it seems since habits are often automatic and out of mind. Then rate each habit as effective, neutral, or ineffective in helping you reach your desired company identity. You have to acknowledge your habits before you can change them. Clear posits that 40% to 50% of everything we do is driven by our habits.
A strategy to ensure that a new habit gets started is to make it attractive to do (second law) by performing the new habit immediately before a pleasurable habit you already engage in. This might translate to reviewing sales figures (an established habit that you look forward to doing) only after walking the production floor and talking with associates (desired habit)… or checking your ESPN app (established habit) only after updating and posting performance metrics. The expectation of a reward is a powerful motivator.
In terms of making habits easy to start, the book promotes the two-minute rule—any new habit should take less than two minutes to do. Repetition is far more important that duration at first.
While the book delves into advanced strategies as well, its primary value is in showing readers and companies how to use the four laws to start and maintain habits (Atomic Habits will be sent free to all early-bird registrations of the CI Conference).
2020 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 5–8 in Columbus, OH) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking.
Whether you’re starting a structured improvement program or are looking for ways to sustain and improve your existing efforts, the conference has content specifically designed for your knowledge level. There will be 30 speakers, 25 presentations, 7 networking and social sessions, 3 pre-conference workshops, 3 plant tours, and several hundred attendees.
To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Continuous Improvement newsletter is published seven times a year by Printing Industries of America. Send submissions and subscriptions requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.