This issue from PRINTING United Alliance features articles on the basic principles of Lean manufacturing, why savvy leaders coach others to think creatively and solve problems, and models for operational excellence. The practice of continuous improvement offers printing and graphic communications companies a way to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
Articles in this issue:
- A Few Basic Thoughts about Lean
- Break the Telling Habit and Make an Impact
- The Quest for Operational Excellence
- About the CI Conference
A Few Basic Thoughts About Lean
There are many excellent books and videos on Lean and continuous improvement. They each provide a slightly different perspective and, as such, each add their own unique value. To distill some of the more fundamental ideas, I’ve prepared a list of key thoughts that have been useful to me in practicing Lean as well as in helping others to deepen their understanding. Here are a few of them.
Go to the Gemba and See
To understand issues and problems, we need to go where the action is occurring and see things for ourselves. That place is referred to as the gemba, Japanese for “where value-added work is occurring.” It’s often the shop floor but can be anywhere value-adding work is being done, for example, shipping, customer service, and sales. Managers typically are not close enough to the work of the gemba to know the real problems. Our ability to understand and help people and processes to improve depends on how often we are there seeing the reality of things, and the relationships we build.
Ask Questions and Listen Carefully
While we’re at the gemba seeing the actual condition of things, we must ask questions of the people who are there all of the time—the employees who work there day after day. The people who work in the processes of the gemba have great insight into the challenges being encountered, and they often have good ideas for countermeasures. We can ask questions that help us to understand their situation. “What gets in your way when you’re doing your job?” “What problems are you encountering?” “What do you see that could be improved?” The important point here is to shift from telling workers what to do and how to do it to asking workers for their insight to gain a deeper understanding of the actual conditions before any actions are taken.
Respect for People
Operations do not become improved on their own; it requires the unrelenting attention and energy of people to make it happen. When people are asked for their ideas and are able to apply their brainpower and creativity to solve the daily problems of the business, the improvement energy is nearly boundless. Involving workers in the problem-solving process is one of the highest forms of respect. People feel valued when they’re asked for their thoughts and their answers are acted upon.
If we don’t know what and where the problems are, we can’t correct them. A culture where people are encouraged to bring problems forward and coached on how to solve them is one where problems can be solved quickly while they are still small. If problems remain hidden for fear of retribution or lack of time and ability to solve them, they grow into much bigger issues. The more quickly problems are exposed and countermeasures taken, the more quickly and smoothly work activities can occur. Companies have far more problems than people, so you’ll need to involve every employee in the problem-solving activities.
The 7 wastes of Lean (transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, and defects) are in every work activity, every process, and every company. These wastes create snags, delays, and inefficiencies in the work. They slow work down and add costs. Everyone in the company should learn these wastes, know how to recognize them, and work to eliminate as many of them as possible. As these wastes become evident and eliminated, work begins to flow more smoothly.
Kaizen (Japanese for improvement) is not just an activity, it’s an attitude and a way of thinking. It’s a recognition that there are wastes in every process and activity and the understanding that when those wastes are identified and removed or reduced, the work becomes easier. Easier leads to better. It also leads to faster and often cheaper. Since every work activity is weighed down by these wastes, everyone has an opportunity and obligation to practice kaizen. Simply stated, every job in an organization has two parts: the work activity and kaizen. Without continual improvement of work activities and processes, companies are stuck with the same amount of waste and inefficiency that they’ve always had.
Spend Ideas not Money
Often referred to as “creativity before capital” and “wit before wallet,” this aspect of Lean recognizes that the ideas and ingenuity of employees have been often underestimated. It also acknowledges that in the past, problems were usually solved with expensive new equipment, costly fixes, and overtime. However, when you tap into the brainpower of the people who work in the gemba, and coach them on improvement practices, simple, low-cost solutions to problems are what frequently occur. Furthermore, the solutions generally occur more quickly. It recognizes that an improvement not perfectly done today is better than the perfect solution done later. There is always a need for further, continual improvement.
While these few thoughts may be a refresher for many of you, I believe they’re worth revisiting and thinking about. Too often we tend to get narrowly focused on tools such as value stream mapping, 5S, quick changeover, and the like and lose sight of the basic thinking behind Lean and continuous improvement. In my experience, the right thinking is necessary for the right use of the tools.
John Compton is a former quality executive in the printing industry, professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology, and the conference consultant for PRINTING United Alliance’s annual Continuous Improvement Conference. He offers consulting services to assist companies with CI and Lean initiatives.
Break the Telling Habit and Make an Impact
As leaders, we often feel that we have to be the expert with all the knowledge. We feel that we have to be the person in the room who solves the problems or handles the challenges. This brings with it a level of pressure that can sometimes be counterproductive—for you and for your team.
What if you didn’t have to be the person with all the answers? What if you were the kind of leader who developed your people by asking better questions, so that they could solve the problems themselves?
Asking better questions is one of the most impactful things we can do as leaders. When these questions are aligned with the purpose of developing learning, you begin to transform into a leader who can navigate the continuums between asking and telling, advocacy and inquiry, and expert and coach.
This all depends on your INTENTION. Intention = Heart + Direction. Leading with intention is knowing your purpose (heart) and then aligning your actions in that direction. This is where you ask yourself some important questions:
- How do you want to impact the person you’re asking the questions to?
- How important is it to get to the solution that you have in your mind at that moment?
- How open are you to other answers?
- How important is it for your answer to be the “right” answer?
Reflect on your role in that moment. Is it more important to get to your right answer immediately, or is it more important to use it as an opportunity for learning?
Leaders Don’t Always Have to Have the Answers
One of the fundamental concepts of a Lean learning culture is that “no problem is a problem,” or, as Toyota leader and subject of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Isao Yoshino says, ask for “bad news first” ahead of what is going well. However, one of the challenges that many leaders face is the burden that they themselves need to take on all the responsibility for solving problems that arise in their organization. That isn’t the leader’s role.
What Does Intentional Leadership Look Like?
When you lead with intention, you begin to successfully navigate the following leadership and coaching continuums:
- When to ask and when to tell
- How to provide both challenges and support as people are learning
- How to achieve business results while developing people at the same time
Intentional leadership guides you to better fulfill your purpose as a leader and coach, while helping others to be their best selves. And, importantly, you solve more problems at the same time!
The Leading to Learn Framework
As I describe in my book, a leader’s purpose is threefold:
1) Set the Direction—Provide a clear challenge or target.
2) Provide Support—Help others develop competence and confidence in solving problems and achieving goals.
3) Develop Yourself—See yourself as a business condition that also requires improvement.
I call this the Leading to Learn Framework. It is simple in concept but more challenging in practice. Your role as a leader is to create an environment where people can bring problems and issues forward, secure in the knowledge that they have the capability to clarify what the actual problem is, and that they have the confidence to move forward. This way, they know that they have the support to solve the problems within their span of control—or, if there are bigger challenges, that they have their leader’s support to remove barriers or help them navigate their way forward.
When you realize leadership is about both setting direction and providing support, you are unburdened from having to be the expert with all the answers. Leading to learn is about finding the learning zone between providing a challenge and support to allow someone else the opportunity to learn and grow.
When you break your telling habit and strengthen your habit to lead with inquiry, caring, and curiosity, not only do you solve more problems, your team—and organization—is able to flourish.
Katie Anderson is an internationally recognized leadership and learning coach, consultant, and professional speaker. She will be a keynote speaker at the 2022 Continuous Improvement Conference. Her book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning is an international #1 Amazon bestseller. Download her helpful guide for more actionable advice: 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit.
The Quest for Operational Excellence
Savvy printing executives would agree that systematically striving for operational excellence is one key to financial success. OK, then why don’t more companies do it?
The are many reasons, but I bet one of the most commonly cited is “I don’t know how” (or for self-deluded individuals “I’m doing fine as it is”).
Operational excellence is when a printing company’s system—the accumulated processes that follow when an order is received—is running on all cylinders. Throughput speed, inventory levels, day-to-day operating costs, and customer satisfaction are all superior and getting better. Jobs are delivered on time and done right. Resources are efficiently used. The culture breeds innovation.
Seeking excellence takes passion, new leadership approaches, a model to follow, and perseverance. There are a variety of models that companies can follow: ISO 9001 (which provides a good foundation), Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence on which the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is based, Total Quality Management, and Lean/Six Sigma. Here are two others to choose from:
The Shingo Model
The Shingo Model is based on the Lean thinking approach taught by Dr. Shigeo Shingo and used by Toyota and other world-class manufacturing companies. Shingo, a Japanese management consultant and engineer, recognized the vital philosophies needed to achieve high levels of effectiveness and efficiency. His model, refined by the Shingo Institute, is based on ten guiding principles over four dimensions.
Dimension One: Culture Enablers
Culture enablers make it possible for employees to understand the guiding principles, engage in organizational transformation, and create a culture of excellence.
- Respect Every Individual—Respect must be felt deeply by every employee, customer, supplier, and community member.
- Lead with Humility—Leaders must be willing to seek input, listen carefully, and continuously learn.
Dimension Two: Continuous Process Improvement
Every employee must know “what good is” and be taught how to spot waste and improve their processes. Some companies make it clear that the most important responsibility of employees is to constantly improve their processes; supervisors coach them and provide the resources to do that. A measure tracked by companies that do this is the average number of improvement ideas implemented each year per employee. Raising that number increases the rate of improvement.
- Seek Perfection—This aspiration enables a mindset and culture of continuous improvement.
- Embrace Scientific Thinking—Improvement is the consequence of experimenting, observing results, adjusting, and experimenting again.
- Focus on Process—The majority of problems are rooted in imperfect processes, not people.
- Assure Quality at the Source—Standard procedures, effective maintenance, visual management, and training all contribute to getting the job done right the first time. Errors must be spotted and fixed immediately.
- Flow & Pull Value—While it may be exceedingly difficult, the target is a continuous and uninterrupted workflow.
Dimension Three: Enterprise Alignment
Operational excellence requires that managers align activities with the company mission, values, and strategic priorities. Approaches undertaken without this thought are apt to introduce wasted time and effort.
- Think Systemically—Improvements must be made with solid information while considering the entire operation, not processes in isolation.
- Create Constancy of Purpose—Everyone needs to be clear on why the organization exists, where it is going, and how it will get there.
Dimension Four: Results
Businesses define value in the eyes of the customer and set up processes that meet customer needs. In addition, operational and process measurements are needed to monitor performance and spot improvement opportunities.
- Create Value for the Customer—Work to understand customers’ needs and expectations. Try to eliminate activities that customers don’t value.
The Shingo Institute (www.shingo.org) is your source to learn more. The Institute also manages the Shingo Prize, the world’s best-known award program for operational excellence.
Image courtesy of Shingo Institute–Utah State University
2 Second Lean Model
This philosophy appeared in 2011 with the publication of Paul Akers’s book by the same name. Akers heads a small manufacturing company and was frustrated by the complex way that Lean manufacturing was explained and taught to manufacturers like him. He hired consultants, learned as much as he could, and distilled Lean down to a very simple premise—fix what bugs you.
Among its guiding principles:
- Small Improvements Every Day—Set aside time every day so all employees can make a small improvement (saving 2 seconds of time or more). Small incremental improvements quickly accumulate into significant performance gains.
- Teach the Eight Wastes—Everyone in the company should know them by heart. (For the record, the eight wastes are transportation, wasted motion, defects, waiting, excess inventory, over-processing, over-production, and wasted employee potential.)
- Put Improvements on Video—Use simple before and after videos to document improvements.
- Meet Regularly as a Team—Get together once a day to address issues, talk about improvements, and teach Lean principles.
- Fix What Bugs You—Can’t find something to improve? Employees can simply fix what they struggle with. After learning the eight wastes individuals will start seeing clunky processes everywhere.
The use of the 2 Second Lean approach is having a profoundly positive effect on a growing number of manufacturers. You can learn more about it by reading the 156-page book (download a free PDF at paulakers.net/books/2-second-lean).
Get Educated and Get Started
There is overlap between the principles of the different models, and companies often use them to develop their own distinctive approach. One of the best ways to gain insight is to listen to other companies describe the steps they are taking. In May of 2022, several printing companies will be giving case studies at the Continuous Improvement Conference, sharing their specific experiences and lessons learned.
Companies that accept that their operations need to be better should put in place management systems that will enable the quest for excellence. For those that aren’t convinced, quality guru W. Edwards Deming famously offered this thought, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
Jim Workman recently retired after a career that spanned 40 years, first with Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, then Printing Industries of America, and most recently, PRINTING United Alliance. He managed the Continuous Improvement Conference for most of its 32-year existence.
About the CI Conference
The 2022 Continuous Improvement Conference (May 1–4 in Scottsdale, Arizona) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence by using the concepts of Lean manufacturing and other management and quality systems. 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. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Continuous Improvement Newsletter is published by PRINTING United Alliance in support of its annual Continuous Improvement Conference. Past issues are available at ci.printing.org/ci-newsletters.