Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Archive for the 'Six Sigma' Category...

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, productivity, Six Sigma

ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization (Organisation internationale de normalisation), is an organization that is familiar to most people, but at the same time, requires much explanation.  ISO is headquartered in Switzerland and was founded in the 1940s.  It’s a standard creating entity made up of representatives from several countries that meet, form subcommittees, create and update procedures that are to be used, copied, and/or adapted to one’s business in an attempt to ‘standardize’ operations and improve quality.

Many companies see competitors that have an ISO certification banner hanging on the outside of their building or a .jpg on their website indicating that they have ISO 9001 QUALITY!!.  But what does that really mean?  To tell you the truth, no one knows for sure.  In some cases it means a lot, in others, it doesn’t.

ISO is an organization that strives and survives off of the buying and selling of the unnecessary efforts of other companies.  Each ISO system is different, not only from ISO 9001-2000 to ISO 14000 and so on, but also within each company that employs it.  It really comes down to, in a good portion of the companies, to ‘say what you do, and do what you say’.  But how far does that really get you?

In my opinion, ISO is a great help, if your company is drastically behind the times and has no means of standardization or procedure creation.  However, for most practical applications, it falls significantly short.  All of the companies that I’ve worked for that were ISO certified benefited no more from their ISO system than they did from their own standardized procedures.  In fact, many got worse with their quality levels because of all the red tape and the overwhelming amount of steps to update, change, and even implement new procedures.

Companies need to rely more on their own resources, be accountable for their own processes and procedures, and learn to become a learning organization that continually reviews and updates said procedures in a way that allows for some kind of betterment, to both their customers and their employees.  These days, there are too many companies that are spending good portions of their profits to become ISO certified and to maintain their multi-leveled ISO procedure file for the sake of saying they are ISO certified. 

For good companies that have an evolved awareness of quality and standardization, ISO is nothing more than a bureaucratic overrun of unnecessary red tape, expensive audits, and a faux selling point in the belief that ISO certification will trick your customers into thinking your quality is better.  Quality is determined by the company and its empowered operators, not by their ISO procedures.

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Filed under Lean, Six Sigma

It is always important to recognize people’s efforts and to strengthen team building.  One way to achieve this is through the inclusion of memorabilia that states the purpose of a certain project or cross functional team, or even a company wide goal that may span years.  Here are a couple of examples of a button and a mug that were handed out during my days at General Cable.  The button, which lists the plant’s Lean Sigma goals of reductions in Scrap, Rejections and Inventory, were handed out to all associates working in the plant. 

The mug, which simply states “General Cable Lean Associate”, was given to anyone who participated in any Kaizen event.  Several other items were used for motivational purposes and to show the company’s gratitude.  I still have several golf shirts and a jacket that say similar things to these on them.

The main point is to allow every associate and every team member to feel that they are part of something bigger – something worth working towards.  Along the way, each one of these buttons, mugs, etc. remind you of the task at hand.  General Cable’s Lean Sigma program has worked well for the company since its launch back in 2002 (BGC).

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Monday, May 19th, 2008

Filed under Lean, Lean Quotes, Six Sigma

Over the years I have collected several quotes from various Lean and Six Sigma professionals, historians and trainers.  I have listed most of them below and will continue to expand the list as time goes on.  Enjoy!

“A bad system will defeat a good person every time.” – Deming 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but habit.” – Aristotle 

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese Proverb

“Quick and Crude is better than Slow and Elegant” – John R. Black, William F. Christopher, from A World Class Production System: Lessons of 20 Years in Pursuit of World Class

“We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on the one side and workers on the other, on the one side men who think and on the other side men who only work.” – Konusuke Matsushita

“Lean is not a program, it is a total strategy.” – Alex Miller, Professor of Management at The University of Tennessee

“Due to the set-up times, the tendency is to produce in batches that are larger than the order quantities. This supposedly utilizes the equipment more efficiently, reduces set-up costs, and reduces unit product cost. But any production in excess of immediate market demand ends up as finished-goods inventory. The result of producing these large batches in today’s competitive marketplace is poor customer service despite high levels of inventory.” – M. Michael Umble and Mokshagundam L. Srikanth. Synchronous Management: Profit-Based Manufacturing for the 21st Century. Spectrum Publishing: 1997.

“Finished goods are products that we have made that no one wants.” “Raw materials are products that we have bought that we don’t need.” – Tom Greenwood, Director of the University of Tennessee Lean Enterprise Forum

“Implementing Lean concepts and principles is not a technological issue, it is primarily a management and human resource issue.” – Kenneth E. Kirby, Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at The University of Tennessee

“We do not suggest that you throw your MRP systems away. MRP should be used for purposes of planning and pull mechanisms should be used as much as possible for purposes of execution.” – Kenneth E. Kirby, Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at The University of Tennessee

“Many people think that Lean is about cutting heads, reducing the work force or cutting inventory. Lean is really a growth strategy. It is about gaining market share and being prepared to enter in or create new markets.” – Ernie Smith, Lean Event Facilitator in the Lean Enterprise Forum at the University of Tennessee

“Kanban is like the milkman. Mom didn’t give the milkman a schedule. Mom didn’t use MRP. She simply put the empties on the front steps and the milkman replenished them. That is the essence of a pull system” – Ernie Smith, Lean Event Facilitator in the Lean Enterprise Forum at the University of Tennessee

“If you do what you always did, you get what you always got.” – Gerhard Plenert and Bill Kirchmier. Finite Capacity Scheduling: Management, Selection, and Implementation. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: 2000.

“Failure to change is a vice” – Hiroshi Okuda

“There are three kinds of leaders.  Those that tell you what to do.  Those that allow you to do what you want.  And Lean leaders that come down to the work and help you figure it out.” – John Shook

Again, with any of the lean quotes I present, I try to be as accurate as possible.  If you see any discrepancies, please email me.

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Filed under Six Sigma

The Quality Paradigm:  Six Sigma

Born out of the 1980s and the need to improve Motorola’s quality, Six Sigma is the most recognizable quality program out there.  At the time when Bill Smith first developed the methodology behind Six Sigma, other quality programs were already spreading their way around the business world.  Most of these programs were referred to as “buzzwords” and never taken very seriously.

The true history of applied quality dates back to the early 1900s, with several main contributors like Walter A. Shewhart, Joseph M. Juran, Kaoru Ishikawa, and Genichi Taguchi.  While they played an important part in the foundation of statistical quality control thinking, they are not the most widely known, especially outside of Quality Engineering. 

During the 1950s and 60s, Dr. W. Edwards Deming was working with Japanese companies to help improve their quality and production processes.  He developed several basic quality and managerial ideas, first noted as his ‘14 Points for Management.’  Later, he would introduce what was termed the ‘Deming Cycle’, which is methodology for problem solving that followed a continuous, circular path:  Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).  His ideas drastically improved the quality and efficiency of products coming out of Japan.  He would go on to win several awards until his death in 1993.

At the same time Deming was working in Japan, Armand V. Feigenbaum was developing his own set of quality initiatives at General Electric would come to be known as “Total Quality Control”.  This was the main subject in his book, Quality Control:  Principles, Practice, and Administration, which was later renamed, Total Quality Control.  In the years since, this has all been grouped into an idea called Total Quality Management (TQM).  TQM, which is commonly referred to as the precursor of much of Six Sigma, is a management approach to quality in which every customer concern is regarded in high esteem and every employee is responsible for maintaining the highest level of quality.

Six Sigma continues this approach with every employee’s interactions with products and the subsequent response from customers, both internal to the company as well as the end user.  There is a process, which is more or less the skeleton of Six Sigma, and closely related to the Deming Cycle:  the DMAIC process.  This process is a defined methodology to problem solving, where each letter stands for a different phase of a quality control project. 


In order of execution:

Define:  Define the problem at hand.

Measure:  Begin measuring the problem area or process to determine the current capabilities

Analyze:  Analyze the data from the Measure phase

Improve:  Develop and implement measures to correct the underlying problem as realized in the Analyze phase

Control:  Continue to monitor the implementations and repeat the process continually

 That, in a nutshell, is an overview of Six Sigma and its history.  At the present time, there are always companies trying to implement a Six Sigma program to improve their quality.  Just like Lean Manufacturing, sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed, and it’s all determined by the management involved.  Six Sigma also incorporates the certification of several individuals within the company at various levels in a fashion similar to Karate, as there are Black Belts, Green Belts, Yellow Belts, etc.  This practice, which once grew Six Sigma, is now a haven for under trained and over certified individuals as you can get a Black Belt just by going online and paying a few dollars.  Sadly, many lazy managers will resort to hiring Black Belts to do the Six Sigma implementation instead of doing the work themselves. 

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

What is Kaizen?  Many people that are new to Lean Manufacturing will at some point end up saying, “Kaizen?  What is Kaizen?  What do you mean by Kaizen?  What does Kaizen do?”  Several terms and definitions come to mind when talking about Kaizen.

On page 24 of The Toyota Way, Liker comments, “Kaizen is a total philosophy that strives for perfection and sustains TPS on a daily basis.”

Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “Change for the better” or “improvement”.  It is most commonly translated into English as “Continuous Improvement”.  Kaizen is one of the forerunners in Lean thinking and requires discipline and constant re-evaluation.  It works on the basis that nothing can ever become perfect.  There is always something that can be improved.

Kaizen on a company scale can mean several things.  As part of a continuous improvement culture, most companies hold what are called Kaizen Events.  These are generally an activity that remove people from their daily tasks and place them on a team, to accomplish a goal within three to five days.  These are highly targeted projects with achievable results, such as moving machines so that they can work closer to one another for continuous flow, or designing and implementing a new queuing system for a specific purpose, or a SMED event (What is SMED?), etc.  No matter what the goal is, the process is relatively the same:  Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) was developed by W. Edwards Deming and introduced in Japan in the 1950s.  It is based on the Scientific Method and is a precursor to Six Sigma’s DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, & Control).  This is how PDCA breaks down:

  • Plan – Develop a sound, well thought out goal (that can be achieved with moderate effort) and how to achieve it.
  • Do – Implement the ideas and/or changes needed to achieve the goal, including training.
  • Check – Review what you’ve done; be critical, but not negative.
  • Act – Depending on how the Check step went, sustain these results or perform the whole PDCA cycle over again.

You can see that this is pure continuous improvement as the cycle can be completed over and over again.  In the Toyota Production System, they have slightly changed this language to be Plan, Try, Reflect, and Standardize.  Different verbiage, but same expectations of process and results.

Typically, most Lean training and resources define two types of Kaizen:  System or Flow Kaizen and Process Kaizen

A System or Flow Kaizen deals with an entire value stream being evaluated for opportunities of improvements and will usually include action from several levels of management. 

A Process Kaizen is a concentrated improvement of a single process (or groups of the same type of process).  This type of Kaizen will usually include a cross functional team dedicated to improving that individual process.

Both of these types of Kaizen are abundant in any successful Lean enterprise, and are at the very heart of those organizations.  Working within a company that needs help implementing Lean can begin to wear on your mind, especially if you are the agent of change.  For my entire professional career I’ve had to take on this role.  You push and push everyday for changes because you can see the waste sitting all around the plant and office; in stacks of wasted inventory and DMR’d materials to frivolous steps in product development processes.  It’s tough to keep a positive attitude. 

Over time I’ve learned to incorporate the idea of Kaizen into everything that I do.  I make it a habit to say this word to myself over and over again at different times during the day.  While at work, it keeps me in the moment and opens my mind to thinking that everything can be made better if we just apply ourselves a little bit more.  Now, I tend to Implement Then Perfect which is a good, offset definition (sort of) of Kaizen, where as early on in my career I would spend too much time pondering possibilities instead of just doing.  This creates better outcomes and makes you think on a Results Driven basis, which is really the way you want to think – you will constantly grow and improve – just like a company that is maintaining a strong Kaizen mentality.

On a personal level, use Kaizen to improve you life and it will work its way into your professional career.  Incorporate it into your daily life with exercise, eating habits, vices, etc.  If you want to start working out, start small and build from there – add a little bit everyday.  That’s small, incremental improvements that work.  If you eat too much, try to eat 1 less bite at 1 meal every other day, and eventually move up to 1 bite for every meal, everyday.  If you smoke and want to quit, cut back slowly and your body will respond favorably.  These methods work for you and the same type of stepwise improvements drive positive changes in your company.

If you know someone who claims to be perfect – they’re not.  Even a lot of the most successful people will tell you that they are not perfect and that that belief is what got them to where they are today – and it keeps them there.  You maybe thinking:  “Won’t that thinking just make me depressed?”  The truth is, no, it won’t.  Once you allow yourself to see the flaws that are holding you back, you will be much more likely to overcome them.  A good motto that I try to live by is:  Always be happy, but never be satisfied.  That is the essence of Kaizen.  That will bring continuous improvement to your life.  That is Kaizen.

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

The United States is in trouble.  Being a relatively young nation, it is still developing its own identity; which to this point has been one of adventurers and risk takers.  This is something that one would expect from a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants, as leaving one’s home country requires those types of traits to allow for such thoughts.  This frontier’s man type of attitude is one characteristic that has always led to great accomplishments as a result of such verifiable risk taking.  However, with all of this success comes arrogance, expectation, gluttony, and worst of all, lackadaisical-ness.

It wasn’t always this way.  After the World War I, the United Stateswas riding the victory bus all the way to Prosperville, but then the wheels fell off and we were stuck in the middle of the Great Depression.  That should have been the first sign that our independently spirited behavior was leading us in the wrong direction.  This fact was forgotten, however, on December 7, 1941 when warplanes from Japan performed a devious preemptive strike on our naval base at Pearl Harbor.  The following years led to the country coming together to fight the Axis of Evil, and along with that came production on a scale that had never been seen at any point in history.  Because of this, the United States went onto success, not only in the war, but also inside of its own borders. 

The Great Depression had ended.  No more soup lines and government cheese.  It was time to go to college on the G.I. Bill, and have some kids.  We had survived the biggest threat to the known world in recent history.  Let the party begin.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of television, the space program, and most of all civil rights.  Within this time, Americans familiarized themselves with many comforts developed from technology discovered during World War II.  One such invention was the use of microwave ovens in the home.  No longer would the family cook have to slave over a hot oven all day.  We could cook our meals in minutes and eat them while enjoying our favorite television program which showcased people that were just like our closest friends and neighbors.  Everyone was becoming identifiable.  Celebrities were becoming more iconic, and so, the great American ideal of merchandising was born.  More and more regular citizens began to purchase products not simply on the fact that they needed them for some common use, but more because their favorite celebrity supposedly swore by it.  This generated a feeling of belonging for some, but for others, a feeling of envy.

With such a huge rise in home ownership, Americans were living side by side in a manner never that was never really developed before.  Homes were now being built and setup in curving neighborhoods with every other house looking the same.  And once again, the American people’s ability to take a common characteristic and turn it into something completely over the top had succeeded:  If your neighbor had it, you had to have it.  Of course this envious character has existed in human nature since the beginning of things, but nothing had been developed into such a hate machine as this.  And so the American spirit worsened, and we turned from a nation of “I need” to a nation of “I want”.

This all continued to worsen during the 1970s.  The Great American Consumption Machine rolled on and on.  Automobile manufacturers started developing cars that were no longer to get you from point A to point B with a few creature comforts included.  You could now get a car with an engine big enough that you could out race anyone in your neighborhood.  Americans were becoming increasingly more self centered, and the “gimme gimme gimme” attitude continued from infancy into young adulthood.

This was the crucial point in American society when certain individuals began to realize the downward spiral we were taking.  Since the end of War World II, Japan had been rebuilding, and in their traditional way, rethinking and continuously improving their ways.  The American unions, along with the Great American Consumption Machine, were causing increasing prices for consumers, which affected everything from food to automobiles.  Like Japan, other countries were taking notice.

The formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960, allowed those countries to establish exporting policies as well as oil prices.  The United States never really a felt a serious pinch from this until 1973, when during the Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) decided that they would no longer export petroleum to countries that supported Israel.  Coupled with that threat was that at the same time, OPEC decided to quadruple the price of oil.  All of the highly industrialized nations, including the United States, attempted to put forth measures to prevent future shortages and price run ups.  This held over the American people until the early 1980s.

Seeing an open market and piles of money awaiting them, Asian manufacturers began to increase their exports to the United States.  Along with their pennies-per-hour-manufacturing-costs and significantly lower prices, they brought their compact automobiles.  Since the oil crunch of the 70s, several groups within the U.S. were pushing the idea of smaller, more fuel efficient automobiles with a higher regard for the environment.  So, as Americans do, we followed the head lemming and moved towards the Asian edge of the manufacturing cliff.  While the quality was not great from American manufacturers, it was even worse from most Asian companies.  One of the few exceptions was the Japanese automobile giant Toyota.  However, the quality aspect of things never seemed to matter to the American society as a whole.  True to form, they were consistent with their previous trends of purchasing and went with what was of lower cost.  And so, many more Americans began losing their jobs, as companies that were started and grown in the U.S. decided the only way to compete was to move operations off shore.  After all, wasn’t it the American labor policies and rights protections that had led to this run up in wages and costs?  Apparently, most of American companies felt this way, and the life of the ordinary American worsened.

It was during this time that two of the most significant publications in American history were released.  First, starting in 1984, people were introduced to Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book The Goal:  Excellence in Manufacturing (later called The Goal:  A Process of Ongoing Improvement). the goal cover The book, a work of fiction, led readers into the concept of the Theory of Constraints through an easy to read novel setting.  While this book has had great impact and has sold millions of copies (over 3 Million in fact) worldwide, it is virtually unknown outside of the manufacturing world.  This sadly rings true for the second publication, especially since it had a far greater message.

After a five year, five million dollar study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology associates Daniel Roos, James P. Womack, and Daniel T. Jones released their groundbreaking work The Machine That Changed the World:  The story of Lean Production.  Between the covers of this book, they explained much of the same message I am trying to convey with this site, but strictly towards manufacturing.  Most importantly, they detailed how Toyota could produce cars with a third of the defects of American cars, using half of the factory space, half the operator and production time, and consequently, about half the cost.  While recording their findings, they coined the term Lean Production, which is still used today when discussing the topic.  Again, just like The Goal, this book gained much acclaim from the business and manufacturing world, but received very little coverage in the American mainstream which was centered around soap operas, game shows, and “Who shot J.R.?”  The one good thing that has materialized from these two books is the acceptance that as Americans, we need to change our ways if we wish to continue our lavish lifestyles.

Around the same time, as previously mentioned, American companies were not only losing ground on the fact of cost, but their quality was driving consumers to move towards lower priced goods produced offshore.  At Motorola, Bill Smith was pioneering a new quality initiative to reduce defects that would later become known as Six Sigma.  The name is derived from a statistical metric that measures defects as a percentage of total production.  It states that when a company is operating at a Six Sigma level, it will produce no more than 3.4 defects for every 1,000,000 parts produced.  Just like Lean Production has done for manufacturing, Six Sigma is still increasing quality of American products as more and more companies familiarize themselves with the program.  Because of this, Americans slowly became more and more comfortable with American products; technology continued to advance.

With the rapid movement of technology resulting from the unparalleled advancements of the computerized age we currently live in, Americans have become lazier and lazier.  When you thought about dinner in the past, you’d expect to eat a couple hours later.  Now, it’s almost unthinkable to have to wait that long.  If you want a hamburger, you’re in and out in five minutes at your favorite drive-thru window at the local fast food restaurant.  Or if you’re looking for some pampering, you can go to any of the thousands of chain restaurants and dish out some extra cash to have your food and drink brought to your table.

Along with the growth of fast food is the growth of the American Value System.  I will touch more on this in later, but here’s a preview.  We, as the American culture, have for some reason come to the conclusion that more is always better, especially when it has a cheaper per unit cost than buying what we will actually consume.  One of the sources for this thinking comes out of marketing and getting people to buy as much as possible.  Another source is most likely the rise of “discount” clubs which allow consumers to purchase large quantities of goods at a lower per unit cost, if the consumer is willing to pay an upfront cost as well as purchase in quantities greater than those normally found at regular retail outlets.  For Americans, this is true for almost anything, from underwear to food to toiletries. 

The same idea can be said of our lives today.  With so many advancements and creature comforts, why do so many Americans say they don’t have enough time for things?  Yes, people have children and jobs and responsibilities, but then again, so did our parents, and all of our ancestors.  We have built ourselves up so much that our quality of life has decreased.  Television and other people’s affairs take up more of our lives than what is actually important.  Cell phones are literally almost a dime a dozen, children don’t even know the history of their own country, and most adults find refuge in some sort of drug, whether it’s been prescribed for them or it’s been purchased from a liquor store or the corner drug dealer.  And as is our tradition, we cover the problems up instead of actually confronting them.

So, as technology is improving our lives in many ways, it is ultimately moving the American consumer further and further away from what is really needed.  At this point in time, American manufacturing is swaying from stable to unstable and back again as companies shift operations from Asia to China to the U.S. and abroad.  Gas prices have never been higher, causing other basic costs to rise, and how are the American people responding?  Not by solving the problem, but by name calling and the pointing of fingers.  On this blog, I offer simple solutions to help relegate a small portion of the overall problem by making Americans understand that we are the cause of many of our problems based off of the way we live and how we consume. 

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Monday, March 17th, 2008