Doing wrong things much better

I sincerely believe that experimenting with Lean tools was key to spread Lean awareness, ease the principles and tools acceptance and contribute to the Lean popularity.

This was particularly okay in the “tools age”, when Lean was understood as a nice and handy toolbox.

Yet limited and non sustainable successes were hints that Lean could not be “just a toolbox”. Jim Womack, Dan Jones, John Shook and others decoded and explained Lean’s underlying philosophy, the craftsmanship making tools even more powerful, able to transform organizations, save companies and yield significant and sustainable results. So much more than tools.

Unfortunately very few people and organizations understood and embraced Lean Management. This leaves most of Lean tool users stick to their favorite tools, and like kids fascinated by the hammer still run around looking for nails to hit. Any nails.

Ironically the most “successful” organizations with Lean succeed to do wrong things much better.

“successful” here means seemingly good with implementing Lean tools, most probably scoring good on maturity or awareness checks, yet not getting full benefits of Lean in terms of true performance.

What do I mean with “doing wrong things much better”?

Take 5S. The workplaces are neat, clean, free from clutter and with lots of visual indications about where to put things, how to behave and so on. The janitor kit is top notch and the daily a day weekly cleaning schedule is displayed. This good condition is maintained for years now.
That’s all good, but 5S is not about cleaning.

What would be expected after achieving to maintain a clean and neat environment is to eliminate the need for cleaning. Reinforcing cleaning discipline and improving cleaning tools is just doing the wrong thing (keeping on cleaning) much better.

Example number two: rolling out SMED for quick changeovers on all machines seems to be a good practice as the changeovers are necessary evils, do not add value and drain some productive capacity.

Eliminating all the wastes during changeovers is therefore a Lean driven organization’s objective, right?

No it’s not.

Machines with excess capacity vs. customer demand are no good candidates for SMED. The excess capacity should be used to change over more frequently, allowing batch size and Lead Time reduction (this is Little’s law) as well as enhancing flexibility.

Further reducing the changeover duration on machines with excess capacity for the sake of rolling out SMED and “be Lean” will burn up limited resources without benefits for the system as a whole.

  • How many additional widgets can be sold thanks to a global SMED rollout?
  • How much Operating Expenses can be reduced?
  • How much inventories can be reduced?

If these questions are left without convincing answers, the system will not have any benefits but will incur the costs associated with the global SMED rollout.

Applying SMED on a machine with excess capacity is doing the wrong thing (changing over faster a machine that does not require it) much better (it is faster indeed, probably to let the machine idle a longer time).

Example number three: Value Stream Mapping

Its ability to reveal the wastes and obstacles to smooth and quick flow made Value Stream Mapping (VSM) a highly praised and favorite Lean tool. It is used by waste hunters to surface the hidden wastes and improvement points in any process. This is typically a beautiful and strong hammer looking for nails to hit.

Not so seldom do the Value Stream Mappers map a process in search for improvements without consideration of the process’ usefulness. Spending time and using up resources to analyse and improve a useless or very secondary process is nothing more than doing the wrong things much better.

So, what’s missing?

Two things are usually missing in Lean-tools savvy organizations that would bring them to a next level of performance: a system-wide understanding of causes-and-effects and focus.

A system-wide understanding of causes-and-effects means stopping to believe that the system-wide optimum is the sum of all local optima. in other words, getting rid of wastes everywhere will end up with a waste-free system.

Systems are complex, with many subsystems interacting dynamically. Local improvements will not automatically improve the system as a whole because many local optima will compete against each others. An improvement here can severe performance there.

Without understanding the system’s physics and how the subsystems operate, the local improvement initiatives are very likely to end up unnoticed, or worse counterproductive from a broader perspective.

Once the system’s physics are understood, it is key to identify the few leverage points where an action will have significant effect on the system as a whole. Once these leverage points identified, the limited resources must focus on them and not be wasted anywhere else.

How can it be done?

The answer is simple: Theory of Constraints.

Theory of Constraints (ToC) is a body of knowledge that is all about finding and leveraging the limiting factor within a system: the constraint.

Once the constraint identified, the Lean toolbox as well as Lean Management principles and even Six Sigma come in handy to leverage it and get more out of the system.

Used in a synergy cocktail ToC puts Lean on steroids and yields incredible results.

As a focusing “tool” ToC avoids burning up precious and limited resources on the wrong subjects and wrong spots, avoids “doing wrong thing much better!”.

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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 3: top-down and bottom-up

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first post of this series, I explained why bottom-up Lean initiatives have little chance to succeed. In the second post I switched the point of view and discussed the top-down driven Lean rollout attempts and their pitfalls. Neither is easy nor a sure way to succeed.

In this third post it is time to bring the conditions for success together.

Guidance comes from above

The system owners or top management are the sole legit to set the system’s / organization’s overall Goal. It is onto the ways(1) to achieve that Goal that all Lean initiatives must align. This is known as the “True North”.

Lean itself is not the Goal, it’s the preferred framework providing a way of thinking, principles, methods and a toolbox to efficiently achieve the Goal.

The Goal must be stated with clarity in order to avoid any misunderstanding and the Goal should be compelling for to motivate the stakeholders to play an active and motivated role in its achievement.

The worst Goal statement I was confronted with was “Survive another year”.

Stating the Goal alone is not enough. Top management should also set a limited set of top level indicators. In Bill Dettmer’s approach using the Goal Tree, those few top level indicators are called Critical Success Factors (CSFs). They are top management’s dashboard and ultimate steps before achieving the Goal.

Those CSFs must be set by top management for at least three reasons:

  1. It would be weird that anybody else defines the indicators by which top management monitors the progress towards the Goal it is responsible for achieving,
  2. Critical Success Factors are most often dictated by strategical analysis or benchmark, which are top management’s responsibility,
  3. Critical Success Factors constrain how the stakeholders will contribute to achieve the Goal. By this third reason I mean remaining consistent with the organization’s purpose, culture and values.

Once the Goal and Critical Success Factors are defined, enough guidance is provided from the top and it’s the subordinate level to take on and propose ways to achieve their goals, which are the CSF. The same will repeat with the next level and so on.

Lean-aware readers will recognize the cascading principle used in Policy Deployment, also known as Hoshin Kanri.

Appraisal comes from above too

If top management provided guidance, its role isn’t over yet. It is top management duty to make sure the whole organization works towards achieving the Goal and to remind and reinforce this guiding principle: working on anything else diverting resources from the achievement of the Goal is waste and is therefore invalid.

Remember, opportunities to improve are always infinite, while resources and time come in limited number. It is therefore mandatory to focus on leverage points and make wise use of limited resources.

I particularly like the Goal Tree because its logical structure lets no room for irrelevant nice-to-have that are immediately visible and their discarding rationally explained.

Enlightened management is about knowing what to do and what not do. And enlightenment can use a little help from a logical tool.

Without promoting the outdated command-and-control model, direction must be set top-down as well as the periodic checking of the organization’s right trajectory.

Constant attention is required over time in order to avoid any drift, deviant behaviors or loss of focus.

Help comes from above. Sometimes.

It’s still not enough to give direction and check the progress towards the Goal. Management’s top-down support is mandatory. By support I mean advice and backup when tough decisions need senior management to give input or take the decision, especially when those decisions lay beyond the field of authority of the lower ranking staff.

Support is also required when a settlement between conflicting objectives must be found.

From the Logical Thinking Process (Theory of Constraint) Body of Knowledge we know that conflict resolution should not seek a consensus (often disguised as “win-win” solution), but a way to “dissolve the conflict so that nobody has to give up anything except their beliefs in false assumptions.

Yet beware of drilling holes into the pyramid (2), meaning do not do what your subordinates have to do.

It is commonly accepted I hope, that leaders have to communicate the “what to change to” (the Goal) as well as the “why” of Lean transformation. It is up to the lower ranking staff in the organization to figure out “how to change”.

Achievement happens bottom-up

Since Policy Deployment or Hoshin Kanri are around, the cascading principle of top-down Goal setting and corresponding bottom-up answers is known.

Just as Hoshin Kanri, the Goal Tree uses the same principle: when the lower objectives are achieved, the corresponding upper objectives are achieved, and so on bottom-up till the top most objective (the Goal) is achieved.

Each layer of objectives is a set of Necessary Conditions for achieving the objective above. And here again, the Goal Tree provides the rational demonstration why employees can’t freely choose to work and improve whatever they want, even it seems an improvement from their point of view.

This disciplined approach may sound very constrained and limiting compared to other approaches asking staff for whatever improvement ideas. Maybe it sounds disappointingly controlled and restrictive but it makes no sense to burn limited and precious resources to “improve” whatever is proposed.

The lack of focus leads to many critics about lean lacking noticeable results compared to the time and money spent to improve. In this “open” approach stakeholders may have had their moment of glory when their proposed idea was validated, but their “improvements” didn’t impress nor last.


Neither bottom-up nor top-down initiated Lean journeys won’t lead to a Lean transformation success. The approach most likely to succeed is a smart mixture of top-down guidance, monitoring and assistance and aligned bottom-up contributions focusing on specific leverage points.

While top management provides the Goal to achieve and the framework within transforming the organization, the lower ranking staff make things happen working on meaningful and contributive topics.

Even if this approach looks constrained, it is more likely to demonstrate real improvement and proven, lasting benefits. Ultimately, this disciplined way should provide more satisfaction to all parties involved.

This ends the series of posts about the Fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives.

Comments welcome. If you liked it, share it!


(1) Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes would refer to these ways as “tactics”, while the Goal is a strategy
(2) An allusion about another one of my tales of the pyramid: the Swiss cheese

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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 2: top-down is no better

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first part of this series I shared my doubts and experience about bottom-up lean initiative to be successful and sustainable. In this post I switch position and explain why top-down Lean doesn’t always work either.

One common trap top management falls into is to believe that orders given will be carried out as expected and therefore managers save themselves the pain to go checking on shopfloor (1).

A variant is putting instructions in a procedure or on a work instruction sheet and believe it is all that is needed for things to happen.

The reasons for the expected outcome not to happen are numerous:

  • Orders may not be well understood
  • Instructions may be impossible to follow
  • People simply do not know what or how to do
  • People in charge resist the imposed change
  • People don’t know what the expectations are

For this last point, I came across several organizations where top management was aware about Lean principles and techniques and believed the lower levels were familiar alike.

They weren’t. But as none of the top managers went to check, the belief lingered, the performance remained disappointing and the blame was put on middle management.

When enthusiastic management promotes a Lean rollout without getting traction from shop floor, it’s like the top of the pyramid starting off while the base stays put, something I described in my tales of the pyramid series (1).

Another puzzling rollout I heard of was from a large corporate with a dozen of sites. The top management decided to go Lean and in order to get things rolling asked each of the sites to select a pilot perimeter, value stream map it and improve the selected processes.

I asked the central PMO manager if the sites had a common corporate Goal to align onto. No he answered, we’d like to start with local demonstrators to prove Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool for improvement.

But what if the improved processes are unnecessary in regards to corporate strategy? How will you cope with frustration if the improvements done locally must be reset or discarded because of the corporate roadmap to come?

I got no answers to those questions and could not do any business with that organization. I never heard anything about operations’ improvement and years later I was told that most of the people from central Lean office moved elsewhere.

To me it seems that this attempt was nothing else than a large-scale muda hunting, without any central coordination than the tools and methods to be used, mandatory.

There are also many cases were CEOs or senior executives got hooked by a Lean conference, a Lean-praising speech or a good read. They appoint a champion or a consultant and assign her/him to deliver “the same”. Of course there is no deep understanding of Lean, only the desire to get the same alluring outcome.

What follows is most often a failure, even so it was strongly “supported” from top-most authority. One of my greatest Lean successes was with a medical devices manufacturer calling for help after the internal team totally messed up with their Lean attempt (2). Everyone was so upset with that experience that “lean” was a forbidden word. Alas not seldom a case.

What we did to straighten it out was… Lean in essence, just camouflaging it with other wording.

Imposing Lean from top-down has probably the same failure rate than bottom-up attempts, or even bigger when stakeholders do not understand what is asked and what for .

Top-down support is mandatory in a Lean transformation project. It is a necessary condition to success but by no means a guarantee for success!

In part 3 of this series we’ll see how to set better conditions to succeed with Lean.


(1) Top management is often cut off from the reality as I explain is the Tale of the pyramid – Head first. Top managers may also like to stay in their cosy ivory tower, another tale of the pyramid
(2) It takes more effort than read and learn from books to get good results with Lean tools and techniques. A deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy is learned the hard way, experimenting and reflecting on successes and errors


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Reflecting on Lean – Lean Confusion by Jill Jusko

Lean confusion is a 3-page article by Jill Jusko, posted on on Aug 13, 2010. Despite the time past, this article is still actual and may well continue to remain that way. This post is friendly recension of mine, having read it long after its publishing (2016 vs. 2010).

Jusko’s article starts on the love-hate debate about Lean, even if not expressed in those terms, between proponents crediting Lean (Manufacturing) for many measurable benefits while opponents deny them.

Why the diversity of opinions regarding lean? (…) answer is that people are confused.” both about what defines Lean as well as how to implement it.

In order to clarify what lean is, Jusko proposes Jim Womack’s definition “to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” before quoting more of Womack’s in-depth explanation about Lean Thinking.

That’s the problem with Lean definitions. Either you tell them in a concise way, which may not suffice for the listener to correctly understand the intent nor grasp the full extend of it, or you’ll have to deliver a mini conference on it. None of these two options being certain to avoid misunderstandings or negative shortcuts.

In reality, the definition of lean frequently varies depending upon whom you speak with — whether it should or not.“ the article goes on. Yes, still true. This is depending both on who explains and who listens.

For instance, talking to a senior executive who has only very few time to listen to the explanation, an “elevator pitch” is required, even so “doing more with less”,  while perfectly true may end up with undesirable, mostly social, effects. On the other hand, going for a more detailed explanation may leave the impression Lean is difficult to explain – and understand – or the proponent is not mastering enough his subject to keep it short.

Even so Lean is strategic and should be considered so, many organization want the quick wins and go for the “tactical” implementation, which is more about the Lean tools than Lean Thinking and developing a Lean culture. “execution — or lack thereof — is a significant contributor to a lean implementation’s success” Jusko reports.

On page 3 of Jusko’s article, the “discussion” goes on in the section “what’s missing?” with two experts quotes, one about the necessary focus on machinery, the other about the importance of the human side. Both are right, but their explanations put that way may just… keep readers confused?

If I can put my two cents in, I would advise to go for the human side first. Changing anything on machinery with a deep knowledge about it can be long and deceptive, while properly using the available means – train people, organize work and flow better, avoid stoppages and breakdowns, etc. – yields higher return on investment.

The article ends with a kind of warning about asking “What’s Next Too Soon”, still true today as so many managers are convinced to “be lean” despite the facts and figures about their organization’s performance. Read “We are all Lean now. What’s next?” on this subject.

Few articles may keep their freshness after such a relatively long time after being published. It’s worth reading the original here:

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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 1


Yes, Lean initiatives can be started bottom-up, but I doubt they’ll get very far and last for long. Here is why.

Bottom-up Lean initiatives, e.i. improvements, are opportunities for improvement found by shopfloor people, line leaders or shop management. “Improvement” is most often understood in a broad meaning and bring up suggestions ranging from make worker routine job easier, fix small problems, make the workplace more enjoyable, achieve their work more efficiently and maybe add some value for end customers.

In order to awaken the staff to finding such opportunities, an initial training about Lean principles, the seven wastes (the infamous muda!) is often necessary, with “kaizen events” organized to hunt wastes and frame the initiatives.

Most often the improvement suggestions and bottom-up Lean initiatives remain in this format: a moderated, paced, focused and framed series of periodic workshops. The events are planned and not problem-driven, done when the workload allows it, which means when people have time and management agreement to distract some resources and time from regular operations.

Here lays a triple pitfall:

  1. People do not develop an autonomous Lean Thinking culture, but keep playing the assistants of some appointed Lean “genius”(1). If the latter is not available, the event cannot happen (so common when “black belts” are mandatory) and chances are that the knowledge gathered during these events will not remain with the team, but go away with the facilitator instead
  2. Problems are not tackled when they appear, failing to use the opportunity for learning from a real, actual and acute case. The muda hunters are set loose to “find something to improve” when the kaizen event is scheduled
  3. As the kaizen events are scheduled and too often subordinate to low workload, the “continuous improvement” is erratic in frequency, inconsistent with learning, problem solving and likely to be stopped for good at some point because “We have no time”.

The format and drawbacks of those events is not the sole reason for making me doubt about bottom-up Lean initiatives being viable. Those bottom-up ideas and initiatives assume that the suggestions will lead to real improvements.

Yet how many of them are nothing else than improving the workplace comfort, changing something to workers’ preferences or taste while assuming this will ultimately lead to (noticeable) performance improvement?

I’ve seen many such “improvements” agreed because management wanted to show willingness to back up bottom-up suggestions, foster workers’ commitment and not discourage them from the beginning. Other suggestions were agreed on the belief they would indeed improve “something”.

Yet most often the evidence of the improvement is not delivered, and no kind of measurement is set up to demonstrate the gain. I am not even expecting for an indisputable demonstration of the cause-and-effect relationship linking the “improvement” to a positive increase of performance, a trustworthy correlation would suffice.

Worse, the good idea in say manufacturing is to have parts unpacked and presented ready to assemble for assembly line workers. The unpacking and display of parts is pushed upstreams to the logistic team feeding the lines. As production lines productivity is measured and closely watched, their efficiency may well go up when the parts preparation is get rid of.

For the logistics team it’s another story, it must absorb additional workload without compensation and as usually its productivity is not measured, nobody sees the waste simply moved to it, perhaps at the expense of other useful activities.

Even worser: Value Stream Mapping is one of the most popular Lean tool and used as a waste revelator. So Value Stream Maps flourish and again muda hunters are set loose to eliminate waste. What the mappers overlook in the first place is the value of the stream they are mapping. And sometimes the process under scrutiny is a pure waste that is noticeable when seen from broader perspective, or higher altitude if you will. But this vantage point isn’t familiar to shopfloor staff.

Isn’t it ironic they put means and time to optimise possible waste? A Lean-deadly sin…

What happens so often next with bottom-up initiatives is top management asking where the beef is. After all, time and resources have been used to “improve”, so where is the return on this investment? And getting no convincing answer, the whole is finally put on hold and frustrated stakeholders conclude that Lean doesn’t work. (2)

Summing up

  • Scheduled and framed workshops are not the best way to develop a Lean culture, especially if it’s the only “continuous improvement” mode
  • Teams remain helpers to the appointed Lean / Six Sigma champion, barely develop a Lean culture
  • Bottom-up initiatives are too often based on unchallenged assumptions regarding the outcome, started on wishful thinking
  • Middle management often lacks the courage to discard suggestions that will obviously not lead to meaningful improvement
  • Improvements are too often local optimizations at the expense of the greater good
  • Shopfloor staff don’t know the bigger picture, hence improve what they see and know, reinforcing the previous point
  • Proof of the reality of the improvement is not systematically delivered
    At some point top management will put an end


(1) “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”, in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”.
(2) I do not approve the way some companies require a calculation of a ROI prior to any change, because the way many costs are defined are questionable. Sometimes improvement are hard or even impossible to express in numbers: reduction of Lead Time, neatness, morale…That’s why I mentioned “correlations”.

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From Obeya to wallpaper show room

When visual management turns into useless wallpaper

Having an Obeya is the latest – fashionable – sign an organization takes Lean seriously. The name itself sounds performing as is it is so strongly related to Lean.

Obeya may sound both exotic and performing, but is nothing more than a “big room”.

(I assume the perplexed Japanese are too polite to ask why so many westerners get jumpy when getting a big room.)

The bigger the room the longer the walls that call for something to display. And in order to make the obeya impressive, especially to visitors, lots of graphs, figures, tables, drawings, photos and maps must be displayed. So shall it be.

As a matter of fact, many companies display impressive walls clad of the previously mentioned printed material, plus sticky notes and hand colored symbols.

Well, many and most of the obeyas I’ve seen fail to turn to the war room where smart decisions are made to win the never ending battle against the empire of waste and its dreaded sneaky saboteurs named muda, mura and muri.

Getting closer to the display, it takes the outsider a while to find out the meaning of what is shown. I didn’t expect the pride about achievements to be that discreet, but it turns out, once the code for reading the charts has been broken, that the pride and achievement are still to come. Anytime soon suggests the presenter.

Not seldom are the prints totally outdated, and latest manual inputs (a place is left for them) missing. Key performance indicators graphs are plotted without any mention of unit nor indication of the target. Some data tables or audit sheets show the period between two events, confirming the lack of cadence.

Actions plans are anything but that. Fluffy wording is used to describe problems and even more fuzzy ones to describe the actions to take. The department in charge are mentioned together with a date (never know if it is the date the information is pushed to this department or the expected date of problem resolution), but nothing to track the actor’s acknowledgment, results nor to check off the action as successful.

The latest obeya with long walls full of complicated looking graphs and lots of other information turned out to be a kind of wall of shame, bluntly displaying and confirming what was happening on the nearby shopfloor. With time lag though.

Nevertheless, those obeyas just as the successful ones, set the scene for ritual meetings where the poor performances are “discussed” without many convincing decisions taken. My colleague describes those rooms as places where people shout at each other, standing.

Now, when I am invited to visit the Obeya, I expect to see visual management turned into useless wallpaper and the dedicated war room turned into a pathetic wallpaper showroom.

To end this post with a more optimistic tone, I assume I am only called to places in trouble and those working well simply do not need me.

Share your experience via comments!

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When enough is… enough

cho-in-azoneThis is a behavior I’ve noticed quite often in food industry, in chemical or pharmaceutical plants: cleaning and sanitation processes (mainly their duration) are extended beyond the standard procedures at the expense of costs and production capacity.

Fear of harming

In the regulatory-constraint industries like food, chemical or pharma, people on shopfloor are trained and qualified to perform cleaning and sanitation operations. They follow procedures and work instructions, based on standards.

They usually also have frequent training about the importance of sanitation or sterilization and the possible consequences if badly done. Working in food, healthcare or pharma is embracing the sacred mission to bring something good, to cure or relieve customers and/or patients and do everything to prevent hurting them in any way.

They are also reminded what consequences for the organization in case of problem beyond failing to: losing the customers’/patients trust, losing the licence to produce, being sued, being exposed to scandals…scary enough for shopfloor people to take things seriously.

Yet the people on shopfloor seldom have the scientific background to fully understand what is required for good sanitation or sterilization, when doing more is useless or even counterproductive. They also are often left on their own, without expert supervisors to reassure them, answer possible question or take decisions in case of doubt.

Furthermore, the results of sanitation/sterilization is most often only known after a sample of rinsing water or the swabbing of the tool/equipment has been analyzed by some remote lab.

Fearing to harm the organization, or worse the customers / patients or possibly to have to go over the whole lengthy sanitation process again if it is not satisfactory, the sanitation is performed longer than procedures require it. This is base on the belief the more the better.

This seemingly logical and well-intentioned assumption is never challenged, leading to waste detergents, acids, water… and time, simply because over-sanitation is not noticed by management.

Changeovers are even longer

Changeovers in such environments can be long and painstaking due to regulatory constraints and all the paperwork associated. Ignoring the over-sanitation habits can extend the changeover duration even more.

Besides adding costs for no additional value, the additional time spent on sanitation may be needed on critical equipment (bottlenecks) and the time lost will not only never be recovered but the true cost is to be counted in minutes of turnover. And this one can be skyrocketing!


When looking for additional productive capacity or a way to get more out of the current process, check the changeovers’ content and take a closer look on sanitation.

Give the shopfloor personnel clear indication when enough is enough, without risk to harm anybody nor to endanger quality. If necessary, have a real qualified subject matter expert attending these critical phases, ready to support the team and answer any question.

Not only will it take some concerns off the team, but may be a great payback in terms of additional yield.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experience in the comments and share the post if you liked it.

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What data for changeover monitoring and improvement?

CapacityMaximizing the exploitation of critical Capacity Constraint Resources (CCRs), so called bottlenecks, is crucial for maximizing revenue. Changeovers usually have a significant impact on productive capacity, reducing it with every new change made on those resources that already have too few of it.

Yet changeovers are a necessary evil, and the trend is going for more frequent, shorter production runs of different products, so called high mix / low volume. Consequently, changeovers must be kept as short as possible in order to avoid wasting the precious limited productive capacity of Capacity Constrained Resources (CCRs).

Monitoring changeover durations at bottlenecks is a means to:

  • reinforce management’s attention to the appropriate CCR management
  • analyze current ways of changing over
  • improving and reducing changeovers duration

Management’s obsession should be about maximizing Throughput of the constraints.

To learn more about this, read my post “If making money is your Goal, Throughput is your obsession”.

What data for changeover monitoring?

When starting to have a closer look at how capacity is lost during changeovers, the question is: besides direct periodic observations, what data are necessary and meaningful for such monitoring?

Before rushing into a data collecting craze, here are a few things to take into account:

In the era of big data, it is admitted now that one never has enough data. Yet data must be collected somewhere and possibly by someone. The pitfall here is to overburden operators with data collection at the expense of their normal tasks.

I remember a workshop manager so passionate with data analysis that he had his teams spent more time collecting data than to run their business.

Chances are that your data collection will be manual, by people on shop floor. Keep it as simple and as short as possible.

This a matter of respect for people and a way to insure data capture will be done properly and consistently. The more complicated and boring the chore, the more chances people will find ways to escape it.

Take time to think about the future use of data, which will give you hints about the kind of information you need to collect.

Don’t go for collecting everything. Essential fews are better than trivial many!

Be smart: don’t ask for data that can be computed from other data, e.g. the day of the week can be computed from the date, no need to capture it.

Example of data (collected and computed)

  • Line or machine number
  • Date (computed)
  • Week number (computed)
  • Changeover starting date and hour
  • Changeover ending date and hour
  • Changeover duration (computed)
  • Changeover type
  • Shift (team) id.

Explain why you need these data, what for and how long presumably you will ask for data capture. Make yourself a note to give data collectors regular feedback in order to keep people interested or at least informed about the use of the data.

Data relative to resources with significant excess productive capacity can be ignored for the sake of simplicity and avoid overburdening data collectors. Yet chances are that some day you’ll regret not having captured those data as well, and soon enough. Make your own mind about this.

Monitoring: what kind of surveys and analyses?

There are roughly two types of analyses you should be looking for: trends and correlations. Trends are timely evolutions and correlations are patterns involving several parameters.


One key trend to follow-up is changeover duration over time.

Monitoring by itself usually leads to some improvement, as nobody wants to take blame for poor performance i.e. excessive duration. As frequently things tend to improve spontaneously as soon as measurement is put in place, I use to say measurement is the first improvement step.

The first measurements set the crime scene, or original benchmark if you will. Progress will be appraised by comparing actual data against the original ones, and later the reference will shift to the best sustained performance.

In order to compare meaningful data, make sure the data sets are comparable. For instance certain changeovers may require additional specific tasks and operations. You may therefore have to define categories of changeovers, like “simple”, “complex”, “light”, “heavy”, etc.

Over time the trendline must show a steady decrease of changeover durations, as improvement efforts pay off. The trendline should fall quickly, then slow down and finally reach a plateau* as a result of improvements being increasingly difficult (and costly) to achieve, until a breakthrough opens new perspectives: a new tool, simplified tightenings, another organisation…

Changeover duration

*See my post Improving 50% is easy, improving 5% is difficult

>Consider SMED techniques to recover capacity


Looking for correlations is looking for some patterns. Here are some examples of what to check:

Is there a more favorable or unfavorable day of the week? If yes, understanding the cause(s) behind this good or poor performance can lead to a solution to improve everyday performance.

Does one team outperform underperform? Is one team especially (un)successful? The successful team may have better practices than the lower performing ones. Can those be shared and standardized?

For instance if one team consistently outperforms, it could be this team found a way to better organize and control the changeover.

If it is the case, this good practice should be shared or even become the standard as it proved more efficient.

I happen to see the performance data from a night shift in a pharma plant being significantly better than the day shifts. Fewer disturbances during the night was the alleged cause.

Be critical: an outstanding team may “cut corners” to save time. Make sure that all mandatory operations are executed. Bad habits or bad practices should be eradicated.

Conversely, poor performing teams may need to be retrained and/or need coaching.

Is one type of changeover more difficult to master? Search for causes and influencing factors. Some engineering may be required to help improving.

These are only some examples of patterns that can be checked. Take time to consider what factor can have some influence on changeover ease and speed, than check how to test it with data and how to collect these data.

Note that correlation is not causation. When finding a pattern, check in depth to validate or invalidate your assumptions!

Speak with data

All the data collection and analysing is meant to allow you and your teams to speak with data, conduct experiments in a scientific way and ultimately base your decisions on facts, not beliefs or vague intuitions.

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We are all Lean now. What’s next?

Every once in a while, for nearly 30 years, the question arises: “what’s the next big thing after Lean?”, suggesting that the askers are done with Lean. We write July of 2016 and it seems that everybody is Lean now.

Many people have been repeatedly exposed to Lean methods and tools, have been involved in Lean workshops, kaizen events, sketched Value Stream Maps and identified wastes, sorted out, cleaned up and rearranged stuff 5S style.

They have seen improvements, celebrated the workshop’s success and were dismissed with a feeling of mission accomplished. Others didn’t see a clear outcome, noticeable improvement or a sustainable result and resumed their regular work.

Both may have a legit feeling of being done with Lean, the first because their objectives were met, the latter because Lean doesn’t work.

Almost everybody has heard about Lean, in good or bad, in manufacturing or administration, in hospitals or software development. Lean is a word that found its way into the business lingo, and hearing it often makes it familiar.

There is also the growing impatience as everything speeds up and the instant satisfaction sought by everyone becomes commonplace. Few people are able to commit to a very long and tedious journey towards excellence in the Lean way, most would prefer periodical quantum leaps. Just as they replace their smartphone from one model/generation to the next, keeping up with fashion or state-of-the-art technology.

Of course we are far from done with Lean and very very few companies I’ve visited can claim being Lean. Nevertheless I can understand the fading interest in Lean and the need to reinvigorate it with something new and effective.

Something new means something new to people they didn’t know about until now, not necessarily new per se. Effective means bringing positive results system-wide, not a local optimisation.

My advice would be to consider Throughput Accounting, Critical Chain Project Management and the Logical Thinking Process.

This is not about the next big thing AFTER Lean but the next big thing WITH Lean!

Throughput Accounting (TA) is not really accounting but rather a Throughput-based decision-making approach. In a nutshell, TA shifts focus from cost reduction to Throughput increase and optimization. Follow this link to know more.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) revisits Critical Path Method, the prevalent project management method that failed so far to get developers and project teams to finish on time. CCPM makes sure that projects finish on time and that, thanks to continuous improvement Lean and CCPM style, project durations can be shortened in future.

Logical Thinking Process (LTP) copes with system-wide complex problems. It provides logical tools and methods to surface and neutralize false assumptions, beliefs, conflicting objectives and the like that hinders the organization achieving its goal.

Giving a try with any or all TA, CCPM and LTP, will reveal new potentials and focusing points for Lean to exploit them. Lean isn’t gone soon.

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