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Friday, August 30, 2013

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why

5 Whys and Root Cause Analysis

From Toyota Motor Corporation
“Underneath the “cause” of a problem, the real cause is hidden.  In every case, we must dig up the real cause by asking why, why, why, why, why.  Otherwise, countermeasures cannot be taken and problems will not be truly solved.”
Taiichi Ohno


As the great Sensei Taiichi Ohno teaches us, the “5 Whys” are there to help us look underneath the cause of a problem to find the “real cause” so that we can find solutions that will prevent the problem from happening again.
On the surface, using the “5 Whys” can sound like a pretty simple exercise – just ask 5 “Why?” questions and you will miraculously arrive at the “true root cause.”  However, anyone who has tried to use this technique seriously will concede that while very useful, properly performing a five-why analysis can be tough. 

And, although the five whys technique can work for both Operations-related problems and Service-related problems it is important to understand the strengths and limitations of this approach as well.  Think of it as a very important tool in your Lean Toolbox, but you’ve also got to remember to use the “right tool for the right job.” 

Here are 3 things that can help you improve your 5 Whys:

1.       Consider where the problem is happening and investigate possible factors that lead to the problem using a Fishbone Diagram.  A Fishbone diagram is a great tool to help you look at potential areas – by helping you to categorize and organize these factors in a way that will allow you to cover a lot of areas while avoiding repetition. There are a number of configurations that will allow you to divide up specific “cause categories” – here are 2 that are quite popular:

4M: Man, Machines, Materials, Methods
6P: People, Processes, Priorities, Programs, Products

2.       Gather facts and confirm them through Genchi Genbutsu.  For your root cause analysis to be robust, it is always important to verify your facts by going to the Gemba.  Observe the actual situation in the actual place that it occurs (by far the best way) and if you speak with people, use active listening to do your best to understand the content and to clarify whether you are hearing opinion or fact.  This is a good time to remember that it is always important to avoid the “5 Whos” – in other words, rather than blaming people, focus on the “Whys”. Don’t forget that more often than not a certain behavior that is out of standard may be due to reasons beyond what meets immediately meets the eye.

3.       Make sure you’ve found the root cause.  Often the question is “when will I know I have found the root cause? – is it automatically at the fifth “Why”? First of all, the number 5 is a rule of thumb – sometimes it may take less “whys”, maybe it will require more. The most important thing is to keep digging deeper, beyond the source of the problem.  One way to test whether you have found the root cause is to ask yourself, if I eliminate this, will it solve the original problem? 

Hint: We often utilize an image of a funnel – where each new “Why” question gets us closer to the end of the funnel spout.  If we find that asking “Why” one more time causes our “funnel” to widen out again, we are probably going beyond the root cause. 

 The 5 Whys is a systematic, logical approach to solving a problem by arriving at the true root cause – digging deep beyond the “symptoms” level to one where our countermeasure will eliminate the problem.  As with anything, arriving at the right depth requires that your analysis be sound. 
Always try your best to narrow down to one root cause BUT sometimes problems can be attributed to a correlation of multiple causes.  For example, a financial institution might have problems with certain products, bank atmosphere, services provided and so on.  In such an instance, it is important to identify the root causes to each of these multiple problems.  Never give up!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Icebreaker!

Those of you who have taken any of our Lean training courses know that ice breakers are quintessential to our dynamic facilitation style. Today, we introduced a new ice breaker, The Ping Pong Toss.

The Ping Pong Toss ice breaker debuted at an in-house kaizen for one of our American clients.

Ice Breaker using ping pong balls from Lean Sensei on Vimeo.

The materials are simple, large basket or bucket, 3 cups, 6-8 ping pong balls. You can improvise and add rings too.

If you get the ball into the bucket that's 1 point. A ball in a cup is 2 points.

Classroom training to equip the group for the kaizen.

The teams are delving into the data.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lean at the Shoe Store

Previously, we have seen something like the photo below in Japan. However, this photo was taken in our very own Kelowna, BC!

Each size and the number of pairs remaining in each size are written on a simple white card attached to the shoe.

In this case 5, 6, 8 indicates that there is a single pair in each of those sizes remaining.

This is intuitive to the customer and to the staff. It is also an inexpensive way to manage customer expectations of available stock and if this is an item that will be reordered it acts similar to a kanban card as well.

Where have you seen Lean today?

Where can you implement a simple and quick solution to bring more value to your customers?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lean Omelette Chef

Lean can be applied anywhere!

We saw it during our corporate retreat at the omelet station. The photo below shows the Omelette Chef cooking over 6 customized omelets simultaneously, while keeping his ingredients fully stocked at all times.

Each pan gets moved down to the next burner as it enters each subsequent stage of cooking.
All the pitchers are pre-measured to the exact amount of his main omelet batter bowl where he pulls exactly one ladle full for each omelet. Despite each omelet moving and customers moving around too, this Lean Chef knew which omelet belonged to which customer- proof that his process was simple without any unnecessary steps that might cause complications.
The Lean chef added value to his hungry customers by entertaining with jokes. Perhaps we should hire him for the next Greenbelt breakfasts?

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Photos of the day

Beautiful Vancouver photos taken by David Chao.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Greenbelt Vancouver First Day and Graduation: A Review Over the Past Year!

It has been over one year since we moved to our new head office in Fairview, and we are still in awe of our beautiful downtown and mountain view we are able to enjoy every day. Our local Vancouver Greenbelt programs consist of 80% hands-on application at various host companies throughout Metro Vancouver to solidify the 20% training time at our head office.

We thought would share the first and final day photos of Greenbelt classes that have graduated throughout our first year at our new office as we prepare for our last sessions of Greenbelt for 2013.

Greenbelt Operations begins: September 9, 2013
Greenbelt Service begins: September 23, 2013

For dates for Greenbelt in Calgary and Toronto or to register for a program, visit our website:

Greenbelt Operations Vancouver Summer 2012

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Service Vancouver Summer 2012

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Operations Vancouver Fall 2012

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Service Vancouver Fall 2012

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Operations Vancouver Winter 2013

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Service Vancouver Winter 2013

First Day:


Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Operations Vancouver Spring 2013

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Greenbelt Hybrid Vancouver Summer 2013

First Day:

Graduation Day:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Photo of the Day

This photo was taken in Japan during the Spring 2013 Japan Lean Tour, flowers to bring us back into a summer mood after yesterday's thunder shower.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Takes TAKT



Welcome back to Coach’s Corner.  We have covered Flow and Pull in previous newsletters, and your rave reviews have inspired yet another article.  To complete the Lean trilogy, it is only fitting that this month’s topic is TAKT.

The Heartbeat of Business

TAKT is the heartbeat concept you learned about in Lean 101.  We teach it in Greenbelt, we teach it  again in Blackbelt, and we explain it to executives every chance we get.  The idea that companies can think about customer demand in terms of an average pace for their work schedules is not too hard to accept.  Yet despite the attention we give to teaching TAKT, I have to say I don’t think most people really have a solid grasp of TAKT Time – why it is so important. The implications it has for their business are stunning.  I find that most companies on the Lean journey stop at a superficial understanding of TAKT Time.  Oh sure, they can talk about TAKT.  Maybe even calculate it.  But do they actually use it?  Do they take advantage of it?  Can they figure out how to apply it to their organization?  Regrettably, I find that TAKT thinking stagnates at the concept stage in many companies.
TAKT time makes customer demand more tangible by chopping up customer demand into small time chunks (TAKT interval) for one-piece-flow.  To avoid overproduction and still deliver on-time, we need to produce one product at a time during each TAKT interval.  Do you see the implications?  If TAKT time is 60 seconds, we need to produce one product every 60 seconds or one minute.  This equates to 60 products per hour (assuming no downtime), or approximately 420 items per day (again assuming about 7 hours of actual production time per day).  But we can’t simply say “let’s produce 420 items per day”   because if we are falling behind, we wouldn’t “catch it” until the end of the day and by then it’s too late to make up the difference.  The whole point of TAKT time is to know immediately if production is on schedule or behind so that you can catch the “falling trend” before it’s too late.

Applying TAKT Time

Somehow the application of TAKT Time often ends up being used to establish daily or weekly production targets.  The information tends to get aggregated into larger batches that a typical manufacturing execution system can deal with.  It’s almost a reversion back to a traditional manufacturing setting.  It seems we use TAKT merely to confirm that the production schedules we have set are reasonable, and then we allow ourselves to think we are “doing TAKT”. 
So what have we missed?  Simple answer: the opportunity to improve!  TAKT is not some aggregated planning tool.  In another words, you don’t use TAKT to get a general sense of whether you are behind schedule at the end of the shift or the day. 
TAKT is an improvement tool.  How are you going to spot the kaizen opportunities if you don’t use TAKT real-time?  Every single part you produce is supposed to give you an opportunity to catch the process in the act of misbehaving.  This is how supervisors and associates in strong Lean environments make the process a little bit better every day.  They see the reasons for slippage right away, in the gemba.  In contrast, I see many non-Lean companies have a person locked in an office, never having been to the gemba, trying to mine their ERP/MRP data to find out why they fell short of production targets, again.  The only way to really get good information about missed cycles is to see what is going on in the gemba, where the work actually takes place and track the true reasons for problems real time.  I cannot recall seeing any system-generated reports that identify a new smoking gun.  You have to see the gun in the gemba when you miss TAKT time in order to put it in the report in the first place.  So why is it crucial to use TAKT time all through the day, every day?  Because if you don’t, your kaizen life becomes relegated to special events, and you miss the daily improvements.
When people travel to Japan, they are blown away by the great andon boards showing plan vs. actual production output based on TAKT Time.  But when they return to their home organizations and it is time to actually apply their learnings, they say it cannot be done. Though it may seem reasonable on the surface to say this, because they don’t make cars or computers, rather they build buildings and serve customers that TAKT time cannot be applied, I would argue this is an unchallenging, unimaginative conclusion.  Especially when there are world class project offices that break down project timelines into steps, display daily progress to plan, and conduct hansei and huddles to find improvement and recovery opportunities every day.  I doubt anyone wants to be the family physician that merely accepts the wasted time for their patients and themselves as part of “the system”.   Then there are family physicians that have figured out how to manage the timeslots in a day, anticipate abnormalities, and stay on schedule without rushing to provide expert care to their patients.  What’s the difference?  In the end I think it is the awareness of when we are off-plan, recognizing what is causing that, and caring enough to do something about it.  Thinking Lean, Acting Lean.

TAKT Takes Leadership

This brings us around to the stark truth that exploiting the power of TAKT comes down to leadership.  Managers and Supervisors need to set an environment where people in a work team can see how they are doing, are trained and coached to surface problems, and empower them to fix them, and feel satisfaction from their daily wins.  Good Lean companies get over the fear that measuring things is about beating up on people.  Good Lean companies understand that visibility of TAKT accomplishment is about empowering people and allowing them to problem solve.

Q: So how should a company go about introducing visible time standards and real-time performance tracking in the workplace?

A: TAKTfully.
Stay tuned as the biggest secret for productivity improvement, a secret that even experienced Lean companies miss out on, will be revealed in the next issue of Coach’s Corner…..

-Coach Andrew

For more Lean insights subscribe to our newsletter. Each issue is released halfway through the quarter.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Photo of the Day

Hope everyone is well rested from the long weekend.
Have a great short week!