Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lean Tip: Entropy is the Natural Order

  1. entropy: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder
Having been personally involved with 1000's of process improvements, I have come to the conclusion that, left unattended, things will head back toward chaos. That is, unless we diligently stay on top of it, the natural order is entropy.

In a previous blog, I described how your lean strategy is similar to taking care of a garden. We need to apply the concept of "heijunka" (load levelling) to our activity. Daily (not weekly) weeding, fertilizing, watering, etc. yields a thing of beauty that is easily maintained-worthy of pride and photographs. Left unattended, set aside full days of playing "catch up" and re-work. 

Sometimes we seem surprised when improvements revert back to the "old way". Companies I work with who do hundreds of improvements via A3 annually sometimes seem surprised that a handful don't "stick". In fact, we need to condition ourselves to anticipate some "fall back", and implement a countermeasure.

For thise of you who do A3 as the vehicle to do continuous improvement (kaizen), pay special attention to the "Hensei" or "follow up" box. This is usually the part of the A3 that resides on the bottom right of the sheet. It should be thought of as the C in DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control). From a Six Sigma Black Belt standpoint, the C probably includes applying the concepts of Process Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (PFMEA) or a Control Plan. For me, Hensei means simply taking the time to go back & check.

Remember that A3 thinking is all about leveraging diversity, gaining agreement and learning then teaching. Often, a failure of the new way to "stick" is the result of not really working hard enough to ensure we have gained agreement. "Gain agreement" is probably one of the most glossed over concepts, right up there with respect for people.

Simply put, I encourage people to use the "hensei" or reflection box to reflect, as a team, on what went right and what went wrong during the A3 process...what are things we know now that we wish we knew then. Also, it should be thought of as an agreed upon date in the future to go see if the improvement "stuck". For example, the A3 team may agree to get together in 1, 3, or 6 months to re-convene as a team to simply make sure that the countermeasures implemented are still working well, having their desired effect. If they aren't, simply re-open the A3 and go through 5 why again to understand why. Perhaps the countermeasures introduced some other unanticipated overburden that needs to be addressed. Maybe the new procedure wasn't taught clearly enough.

My point is that you shouldn't be surprised if some percentage of continuous improvement work doesn't automatically "stick". If you do 100 A3s, expect 15 or 20 to revert back to the old way of doing things. Don't get frustrated or discouraged.......understand that entropy is the natural order.

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