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We have a tradition in my home. Every evening at the end of the day the four of us express gratitude for one thing that we experienced that day. Often that conversation is relatively easy and the gratitude is easy to come by. But sometimes it is not. Some days are, well, we’ll say… challenging… to find something for which to be grateful.
For many, the entire year 2020 was one of those days. But just like those not-so-good days, there are things we can be grateful for from the past year. One of the things for which I am very grateful is the advent of virtual training.
If you would have asked me a year ago I would have told you in very clear terms that the classes taught at Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center absolutely could not be taught virtually. How in the world could I possible convert twenty eight team breakout activities into a virtual environment?!
Well, turns out it really wasn’t that bad. And the virtual solution we implemented is actually pretty good! Not only is it an effective platform, but there are some distinct advantages. Students learn the concepts, but also learn methods by which they can use the concepts in a virtual environment in their own business.
In a recent study by Kahoot, 46% of respondents said learning and development is more important than ever since the shift to remote working. Furthermore, 46% of respondents said they preferred training to continue to be a combination of virtual and in-person.
“The most popular preference for training is a blended learning system, with nearly 1 in 2 professionals saying they would prefer a mix of in-person and virtual training once they can be together at the office.”
My own experience has largely been the same. The level of learning in a virtual environment has been every bit as good as an in-person environment. The bonus of the virtual environment is that students are learning what is being taught, but also learning how they can effectively facilitate a virtual working group.
For example, in the Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center Green Belt class, we have a team breakout session to practice effective brainstorming. When we teach in-person, groups stand together with Post-It notes in hand. In a virtual environment, students go into a Zoom breakout room and use the sticky notes tool in Lucidchart. (Side note: if you haven’t checked out Lucidchart already, do it. Now.) By doing so, the students learn how to effectively brainstorm, but they also know how to effectively use a free online tool so that they can virtually collaborate with their colleagues.
At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we remain dedicated to becoming the premier Lean Six Sigma training provider in Utah. We are passionate about providing training that is applicable to Utah industries, available in a variety of locations, formats, and schedules, attainable in a reasonable amount of time, and affordable for individuals and organizations. We have developed a robust live online format of instruction that dozens of students have successfully completed.
While I do believe that in-person training remains very desirable, I also believe that blended live/virtual training is absolutely here to stay and may even be the ideal solution. The world has shown that not only can we do it, but we can do it very well.
Sometimes I sit in my simple little commuter car and marvel at what a marvel of engineering it is. Thousands of intricate parts work in near perfect harmony to carry me down the road in what is the relative lap of luxury. I’m in awe of the mazes of wiring and interconnected mechanical parts. It’s stunning to me that these many complex parts and systems on top of subsystems can somehow manage to work!
In the world of continuous improvement we can find ourselves falling prey to the temptation to have intricately complex solutions to every problem. We make our forms, our systems, our processes. Controls are put in place to ensure every intricacy of our bouncing baby process is stable, repeatable, and reproducible. As a result, we find that our new process runs well, but the slightest hiccup reduces the entire thing to a smoking crater. Minor variations cause major disruptions.
I’m not going to tell you that complex solutions are bad because they’re not! Complex problems often require complex solutions. We just need to make sure solutions are applied carefully and strategically.
Because Lean Six Sigma is based on respect for our employees, colleagues, and ourselves, we need to create solutions that are as easy as possible, which is why we follow the adage to “Keep it Simple, Stupid!” or K.I.S.S.
Humor aside, it’s the first three letters of that acronym that are really important. We want to keep our solutions as simple as possible. Simplicity in design often means simplicity in implementation. Which means simplicity in practice. Which means effort and expense is low so that labor and money can be spent elsewhere.
As you create new processes or revise old ones remember to ask yourself, “How can I make this simpler?” Or in the words of Tim Ferris, “What would this look like if it were easy?”
Mistake proofing, also known as error proofing, is a concept that has existed longer than anyone can accurately define. Poka Yoke, the Japanese term for mistake proofing, was formally defined and systematized by Shigeo Shingo of Toyota in the 1960’s. It has become a standard for creating processes that are designed to either not be able to produce a specific defect or automatically detect and reject a specific defect. Mistake proofing has been used across industries to create efficient workspaces and to create safe environments. To be able to implement mistake proofing we need to understand the types of mistakes people can make and then be able to put countermeasures in place to prevent those mistakes.
FMEAs are great tools, but it can be very difficult to look at a process and determine what could possibly go wrong. In the same way that a fishbone (or Ishikawa) diagram helps to add structure to a root cause analysis brainstorming event, we can add structure to our mistake proofing brainstorming as well. Instead of the 6Ms of a fishbone diagram, we use 10 common types of mistakes to organize our thought process.
Mistake proofing allows us to reduce the risk of mistakes in a variety of ways. Here are some ways you can implement mistake proofing into your processes:
When I originally wrote that headline, I thought of that wonderful scene on This is Spinal Tap where the musician was talking about how his speakers were louder than anyone else’s. When everyone else’s had a volume knob that went from 0 to 10, his went up to 11. The only thing that was different about his speaker was the volume knob. It wasn’t actually louder, but in his mind, 11 was obviously louder than 10. That’s how I jokingly first thought about the 5S vs. 6S debate.
One of the variations that I sometimes see in the continuous improvement world is teaching and implementing 6S rather than 5S. And while it’s easy to be silly about the debate, it’s definitely worth discussing.
For those unfamiliar with 5S, it is a disciplined methodology for creating and maintaining a clean, organized, efficient, and safe workplace. The five Ss represent the five structured stages of implementing the discipline. The Ss stand for: Sort, Shine, Set, Standardize, and Sustain.
Sort: identify only the inventory, tools (including information tools) and maintenance items absolutely required to support the daily activities of the work area.
Shine: raise the work area to a “good as, or better than, new” condition, and establish a work area that is a visual benchmark.
Set: Identify the optimum location for each inventory item, tool and work area supply.
Standardize: establish simple visual signals to ensure that the higher level established in the Sort, Shine, and Set become the new standard.
Sustain: continuously maintain and even improve upon the condition of the workplace from that attained during the initial 5S events.
Those five Ss are really good to have, and I can’t recommend a robust 5S program enough. However, there are some out there that think a 5S program is lacking one very important S. That S stands for Safety. There are some practitioners who implement Safety as an extended version of 5S that they simply refer to as 6S.
Practitioners of 5S will tell you that safety is integrated into, and is an important component, of each S. 6S proponents feel safety is important enough to deserve its own stage of implementation and will have specific safety-related tasks that are part of that stage.
What’s my opinion? I tend to lean more toward 5S. The reason I do this isn’t because I don’t think safety deserves its own stage. Quite the contrary, I believe safety is important enough to deserve its own unique initiative, separate from all other roles and functions within an organization. At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we teach that all of continuous improvement is based on the respect that we have for our colleagues and coworkers. A major part of that respect is an emphasis on safety.
All that being said, here is one thing I know for certain: DO WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION! If that means a 5S program with an independent safety program, then great! If that means you implement a robust 6S program and roll safety into that initiative, then great! The number of ways to implement continuous improvement are as numerous as the unique organizations dotting the globe. But whatever you do, give safety – and the people you work with – the respect they deserve.
I recently came across this video and, as many of you did, laughed when I saw the boy retrieve the stick. I love how the man looks at the boy in disbelief. My favorite part, however, is how the boy, in innocent oblivion, goes right back to the shoreline ready for another attempt to rescue the flip flop.
After a good laugh I got to thinking, “How often do we see this in business?” We have a business process and we train our team to follow the process: USE A STICK TO RESCUE FLIP FLOPS FROM THE WATER.
Without defining the objective of what we’re doing, our team may innocently believe that the purpose of the process is to use the stick and that rescuing the flip flop is a byproduct of the process. Then when we see our team dutifully using sticks we may have the knee-jerk reaction of “Don’t they have any common sense?” or “It should be obvious!” We often ascribe blame to our team when the fault is actually in us.
As leaders we have a very different view of our processes. It is our job to communicate the WHY of processes, not just the HOW. At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we train you so that you can effectively communicate the how and why of even the most intricate of processes using a variety of tools. One of those tools is standard work.
Standard work is a tool that identifies the sequence in which a job should be performed. It may include visual tools such as illustrations of what is good and what is bad. Standard work may also illustrate how each step relates to other steps. This gives process operators critical information on how their roles affect or can be affected by others. You can learn about standard work and many other Lean Six Sigma topics by attending one of our Green Belt courses. In that class we learn how to use standard work using the classic exercise of drawing a pig! It’s one of our favorite learning exercises because it’s fun, engaging, and illustrates the importance of standard work.
At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we love to teach these and many other concepts. Register for one of our upcoming classes today to improve you, your organization, or your team.