Tag: Poke-A-Yoke

To Strive For Perfection Or Not To Strive For Perfection… That Is The Question…

Mornings at my house aren’t chaotic, per se, but they are quite busy.  Our two little school age kids still need a lot of help getting dressed, fed, and ready.  Waffles are their preferred choice of breakfast food.  Everyday.  With butter, syrup, and whipped cream of course.  And we all like our sleep, so we get up with only the minimum amount of time necessary to get everything done before we head out the door to school and work.

So it is not unheard of for a mistake to be made, between preparing breakfasts, packing lunches, making sure outfits match, getting on the snow pants, making sure the right earrings are in, making sure the library books are packed (oh, and we didn’t read it in the past week?  By all means, let’s read it right now)…. you get the idea.

One of my duties is to make sure both kids have water bottles filled and packed.  Not a difficult task.  But for some reason, sometimes it is hard to remember to get it done, catching it at the last minute before we get in the car.  99 times out of 100, they have their water bottle. But I missed one morning, completely forgot.  Before you scold me too much, of course they have drinking fountains and cups available at school… they survived.  But I still felt bad.

So I began wondering… how can I prevent this from ever happening again?  What system can I create, what checks can I put in place?  A dry erase task list on the door to the garage?  A reminder that pops up on my phone?  Ask my wife to do a double-check?   Five sets of water bottles, with a circle labeled M-T-W-R-F under them so it is clear if today’s bottles have been utilized?  Ask the kids to learn to take responsibility themselves? (You’re right… silly thought…)

Nothing I was brainstorming appeared to be simple and also immune to human fallacy.  With all my ideas, there was still a chance I would forget, walk by the reminder without noticing because my brain was focused on the big meeting I had that day, still a chance a defect would get through.  And I don’t think my budget request would be approved for RFID chips in backpacks and water level sensors in water bottles and a connection to the car that wouldn’t let it start unless full water bottles were detected to be in the vehicle…  (I tested that hypothesis… it was correct… budget request denied)

Then I began thinking about an important question…. did it matter?  If a mistake was made and I missed the water bottles every once in a great while, should I care?  The kids weren’t unhappy… the teachers didn’t send any nasty grams home… I didn’t get yelled at… much… it might only happen two or three time a school year.  Really, the only thing driving me to attempt to improve here was my standard desire to eliminate defects and strive for perfection in anything and everything.  So I chose to let it go.  This time.

Why do lean transformations fail?  Why are they abandoned, sometimes after several years, even with wins and excitement early on?  Of course there are many, many factors, endlessly debated in books and blogs and conferences and online forums, and every situation is different.  But I think a key one is in the title of this post.  Are you as a company, as an organization, committed to striving for perfection?  Whatever your version of perfection is?

As your organization becomes more competent in identifying waste, identifying problems in your processes, the amount of opportunities you could work on begins to outweigh your capacity for actually working on them.  And as the water is lowered, and more systemic, complex, and multi-functional problems and opportunities are surfaced, developing simple solutions that are easily implemented gets harder.  People begin to ask – do we really need to spend time on that?  I’m busy – can it wait?  That seems hard… I’m not sure we will see the immediate benefits of this effort for a while – I’d rather focus on bringing in the quarterly numbers.

Selecting the right things to work on and improve is not always easy for large organizations, and lies somewhere between having an onerous improvement idea/initiative prioritization process that stifles the very spirit of making problems visible in the first place, and simply choosing to work on whatever problem we see today and never solving things through to root cause.  What are the one or two most important things you must accomplish to achieve your business plans?  Improve those processes that will help you deliver them.  Kaizen those obstacles that sit in your path.

If you have developed a clear understanding of what perfection is for your organization, and if you are committed to achieving it, then those questions should become easy to answer.  Does improving this process help you along the path towards your goal?  Or said another way, are the problems you see preventing you from achieving those goals?  If so – the answer is yes, you should spend the time and energy to improve.  If you don’t have that vision of perfection, or if you aren’t committed to it, then the questions and debate will continue to swirl.  Less-committed team members will see lack of clarity and commitment and begin to drift back to their old methods and ways of doing work.  Highly-committed team members will continue to want to improve what they believe makes sense, but will become frustrated when other team members, leaders, and functions are not coming along with them.

Vision – Commitment – Alignment – Discipline.  These are keys to continued progress towards your goals of perfection.

If you’re wondering, yes, it did happen again, several months later.  And the kids survived, and nothing bad happened, and heck, the boy seems to prefer having no water bottle… but for a moment I still wondered what I could have put in place three months ago to have prevented the miss.  The moment passed, and then I made another waffle.

What Can You Learn About Lean From a Garbage Can?

You can learn a lot about Lean from a garbage can.  Don’t believe me?  Well, let’s try a case study.  Here is a recycling trashcan from my office building, which has two openings for recyclables.  Someone has taped a sign over one side that instructs us to “Use this side only when right side is full”.  It is only taped on the top edge so you can flip it up very easily.  Study it, pause, don’t read ahead, take 2 minutes and extract as much about lean as you can.  Think deeply!  Then continue reading.

Recycle Garbage Can









Done?  So, here’s what I saw the first time someone pointed this can out to me.

Overprocessing waste – Someone recognized that the can capacity was overdesigned for the area.  Both sides were being used, but were not filling up by the time the cleaning crew came around to empty it.  There are two separate bins with garbage cans inside, so a crew member had to empty out two half-full, or less than half-full cans every time, even if only a few empty Coke bottles were in one of them.  It may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but take x number of cans in the building, x number of minutes to empty and replace the bags, x number of times per month… it does add up to some real time.  Cut that time in half and you have opened up whitespace for that crew member to do other value-added work, and likely cut in half the number of bags you use.

Empty Wallet Approach – When this problem was first recognized, one solution could have been to replace all the double trashcans in the building with single ones that were half the size.  But that probably would have cost someone some money.  They tried a very simple, cheap countermeasure first.

Poke a yoke – Another countermeasure could have been to put a sign up on the wall behind it, stating the guidelines, asking us to follow them.  I envision a bag of mixed results with that one.  Some people might read it and commit it to habit, but some will walk by and never even read that sign, and just throw their recyclables in either open hole.  What are you going to do then – hold a site-wide training session on the most efficient way to use a recyclable bin?  Send out a mass email with instructions that most people won’t read?  By placing a physical, visual sign over one of the holes, you are error-proofing your countermeasure by preventing someone from just tossing a bottle in the overflow side unless they were to “override” the system.

Knowledge waste – This sign was in place on all the cans I saw in our office location.  However, I happened to be walking around in another one of our buildings soon after this and saw the exact same can, but no sign on it.  And sure enough, there were bottles in each side.  Someone had developed this great countermeasure but they hadn’t shared it with others, and so their fellow employees are still dealing with the waste.  So to speak.

Did you think of some other lean concepts while studying the can?