Lean Six Sigma Checklist for Success

Lean Six Sigma ChecklistMake Your Lean Six Sigma Project a Success

Whenever you are using Lean Six Sigma to make improvements to your facility and eliminate waste, you need to make sure you take the time up front to plan it out properly. In fact, the planning stage is often considered the most important of the entire Lean Six Sigma process. During this stage you will be making a checklist to help make sure you don’t miss anything.

One great way to ensure you complete the planning properly, and then go through the entire process without overlooking any of the essential steps as defined by the Six Sigma methodologies, is to use a Six Sigma checklist. This checklist will be used throughout the process improvement initiative, but especially in the beginning phases while you are planning the improvements out.

Gather Your Team

Another important step on the Lean Six Sigma checklist is to gather together the right people for this initiative. Typically this will include people who work in the impacted area, key management individuals, and at least one or two people from outside the department. This step should be done at the beginning, but adjustments can be made as needed throughout the initiative.

Know where you are starting from

One of the most important things you can do when performing any type of process improvement in your facility is to take the time to learn about the way things are currently done. Document all you can about the current processes so that you can accurately measure how much of a benefit you are getting from the update.

In addition to helping to see how much benefit is achieved, having a good understanding of the way things currently are can help you to identify additional opportunities for improvement. This step is often much more time consuming than people would like, but it is absolutely essential for achieving the best results.

Plan Your Changes

Lean Six Sigma PlanningOnce you have clearly identified the current state of the processes you hope to improve, it is time to start planning your changes. In most cases, you will have some end goals in sight, such as reducing overall downtime or speeding up the length of time it takes to produce a part. While this is great, you also need to come up with specific changes that will help you to get to that goal.

Working with your process improvement team, identify every change, no matter how large or small, that you want to make. During this phase, you should encourage everyone to make recommendations and come up with ideas on how to improve the system. You’ll be able to choose which ones to implement in the next section.

Another important part of the implementation planning stage is to think about safety. If you are making adjustments to machines or other items in the facility, for example, this can create a significant hazard. Alerting people to these changes by using safety signs (like these) or vinyl labels (which you can find here), for example, will help avoid any accidents or injuries.

Reviewing Your Changes

Once you have a list of proposed changes, you need to review them all to make sure they will help you toward your end goal. There are a number of small things that you need to look at when reviewing potential changes, so this step is essentially a mini-checklist within the full Six Sigma checklist:

  • Conflicting Changes – You need to make sure that none of the steps within your changes are going to conflict and cause problems. Looking at all the proposed changes, and seeing how they will interact is essential.
  • Progress Toward Goal – Are the changes you will be implementing going to help make progress toward the specific goal identified for this Six Sigma project? If not, the change should be put off to the side. Even if it is a good idea, it should only be included in this project if it will help it to be a success.
  • Best Practice – Does the proposed change line up with industry best practices?  If not, think about how you can adjust it in order to make improvements.

Create Implementation Plan

Lean Six Sigma ImplementationOnce you know which changes you plan on making, you need to plan out how and when they will be made. In some cases, you can implement most or all of the changes at once. In others, however, they will need to be put in place in a specific order.

Whatever the case, you need to make sure you have a detailed implementation plan ready to go so that all the changes can happen smoothly. This will also reduce downtime and improve the results.

Part of your implementation plan should be a back out procedure too. This way, if things aren’t going well during the changes, you can ‘fail back’ to the way things were before and reevaluate the situation. Ideally this won’t be needed, but it is good to have before you make any changes. Once everything is planned out, you can proceed with planned changes and improvements.

Measuring Benefits

Lean Six Sigma SuccessOnce the changes and updates have been put in place, you should begin measuring the results immediately. In many cases, you will find that the changes actually have a negative effect at first, but this is normally because of learning curves and getting used to new processes. In addition, there is often training that is taking place at first.

Over the course of several days, weeks or even months, however, you should begin to see the predicted benefits from your changes. Gathering as much data as possible after the changes will help you to determine the success of the project, and also help you to look into future changes for the next project.

Celebrate Success & Analyze Failures

With virtually every process improvement program you will find that there are some things that were successful, and others that didn’t go as planned. Once the changes are implemented, you should take some time to celebrate the improvements that were made. This is to help show the employees and management why these types of changes are necessary and important.

In addition, however, you should also take the time to analyze the things that didn’t go well. Learning from mistakes and planning for future improvements is essential when creating a long term culture of improvement.

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The Five Pillars of A Solid Lean Foundation

How to Create a Solid Lean Foundation

Creating a Lean FoundationSo, you’re looking to implement Lean in your workplace and aren’t sure where to start. Or maybe you’ve experienced some problems in previous or current Lean efforts and are trying to figure out why things aren’t quite falling into place. Whatever your predicament, we’re here to help.

In this blog post we’re going to go over five of the best ways one can prepare their business for Lean and, more importantly, set themselves up for success. The whole web of Lean ideology can be confusing and is extremely technical and involved, so while you’re learning you don’t need to be weighed down even more by uncertainty over the basics. Here are the ways in which you can help to build a solid foundation for your Lean efforts before you even begin.

5 Steps to Building a Lean Foundation

1. Know What Your Business – And Team – Do & Don’t Do Well

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In life, we’re often told to challenge and push ourselves to try new things. Just as this advice can help bring about personal growth, it is also the backbone of continual improvement – you’re going to have to get comfortable with focusing on your problem areas until they’re looking better.

In a somewhat counterintuitive move, you’re going to need to, at some point, take a break from looking at where your business is lacking in order to focus on what positive skills your staff already have. Take an inventory of your workers, especially those in management and/or anyone who will be directly involved in Lean improvement projects. Start thinking about the skills that various workers have. For this first pillar, you should create a skill inventory of those who will be involved in your Lean projects. By comparing this skill inventory with observed problems, solutions will start to naturally present themselves.

2. Know What Tools Will Fit Well With Your Business & Staff

The next pillar is based upon the first; you’re going to want to use the information you collected and thought about before to start constructing your Lean toolbox. This will be a list or mental inventory of the Lean strategies most used in your continual improvement projects.

For example, some businesses which identify organization improvements as a major need will look into sorting and maintenance strategies like 5S. Those who determine they need to work on over-production or physical waste might be better suited to put strategies like “Kanban” in their toolboxes. Of course, with changing needs and industry advancements you can always change your favorite methods, but it’s very important to have a basic framework for problem solving and not just randomly look for “a Lean tool” when a project presents itself.

According to Lean Enterprise Institute:

“Standardized work is one of the most powerful but least used lean tools. By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements, and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.”

3. Choose your Project Selection Strategy

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Just as important as identifying the tools you’ll use to solve problems is figuring out how you’re going to identify problems in the first place. If you’re using gemba (on the workfloor) walks, a visual strategy like flow charts or value stream mapping, AND just general “looking around”, you’re going to end up with an overload of possible routes – which often leads to a whole lot of nothing getting done.

When figuring out how you’ll primarily identify the areas of your business most in need of improvement, it’s important to note that they don’t need to actually be an official “Lean strategy” or have a fancy name. If you get the best information from weekly employee chats you have with each of your workers, keep that up. If you prefer to use the company books as a starting point for picking out potential problem areas, that’s fine too. As long as your suspicions can be confirmed with facts before you move to take action on them, any identification process is just fine.

4. Know What You Really Need Before You Ask For It

This pillar is primarily to aid in your interactions with management and others whose decisions will have an influence on the projects you do and don’t get to bring to fruition. One mistake new Lean practitioners will make is identifying a problem (that’s fine), pairing it with an appropriate solution (so far, so good), and then assuming that knowledge is all they’ll need to carry the effort to completion (uh oh, red flag!).

An important part of your foundation is the knowledge that every action in Lean has a reaction, and asking for “some space to conduct project XYZ” involves all kinds of extra factors; you might be changing employee work hours temporarily, displacing other workers, disrupting short term production, etc. No manager wants to be surprised by these kinds of things halfway through your project because you failed to mention (or even consider) them in the beginning. Better to be clear and knowledge of your needs from the get-go!

5. Have A ‘People Plan’

Lean Foundation People PlanPillar four is a perfect segue to the fifth pillar, as they both are wrapped up in the other people your projects will affect. ‘People plans’ are largely about learning how to communicate effectively with those who have different backgrounds and education levels than you with regard to Lean.

Remember just above, when we talked about being upfront about the requirements of a project? Communicating these requirements is complicated by the fact that it’s only effective if the person you’re talking to really understands what you’re saying.

Make the words and phrases you use easy to understand and think about how Lean concepts were explained to you in the first place; what seems second nature now was once a foreign concept, and your position will constantly force you to come to terms with this.

Of course, once the further along you get, the more knowledgeable your general workplace culture will become of the needs, tools, and terminology involved in continual improvement strategies. Just make sure you don’t jump the gun and assume you’ve reached this balance or consensus before you actually have.

Well, there you have it, five pillars for ensuring your Lean efforts go the distance. Got any suggestions for another important Lean consideration you’d include?  Feel free to let us know!


5S: Commit to the Process

The idea of 5S attracts a lot of “window shoppers,” who at first glance, become excited with the idea that they can transform their organization into a clean, organized, well working machine. However, turning their excitement into execution, is often times a challenge they are not prepared for.

For many organizations, the challenge or lack of enthusiasm begins to set in after the third S. Once they have cleaned up and organized their facility, they feel their work is done. Workers are happy and have a sense of accomplishment that they were able to implement something “new.” This flawed thought process is ultimately what leads to a failed implementation of 5S. Which will eventually lead to a negative attitude towards the process and a culture that no longer sees it as a valuable asset to their organization.

The path to a 5s behavior changeFor those that may not know…

The 5S System:

Sort: Eliminate all the things in the workplace that are not being used and store them away.

Set in Order: Arrange the items used on a daily basis so that they can be easily accessed and quickly stored.

Shine: Ensure everything is cleaned and functioning properly.

Standardize: Develop a routine for sorting, setting, and shinning.

Sustain: Create a culture that follows these steps on a daily basis.

5S is about commitment

When working through the 5S process, you have to remember that in fact it is a process, not an ideology that can be improvised. Success with 5S, comes when you follow through with the process and spend the extra energy needed on the last two S’s to ensure success for the long-haul. You may have a clean facility, but it’s short-term. The goal with 5S is to eliminate waste from your organization in all forms including transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, and defects, otherwise known as the seven deadly wastes. An initial clean-up may eliminate a few wastes, but without a method to standardize and sustain your efforts, the chances of continuing to eliminate waste, are slim to none. Worse yet, the chances of keeping the waste you originally eliminated away, are also slim.

You have to create a culture that sees the value in committing to the 5S process. Once you’ve worked through the sort, set in order, and shine, you have to define what you expect out of your employers, including their responsibilities and daily schedules. As a whole, your organization needs to determine how much time is needed everyday to ensure your 5S is maintained and a continued focus.

For example, you could establish the following:

  • Before each employee clocks out for their shift, they are to spend 5-7 minutes making sure their work area is clean and in the same (or better) condition that they received it in.
  • Use checklists that clearly explain what is to be cleaned and inspected. Include details that explain how it is supposed to be cleaned and inspected, as well as who is to do it and how often it is to be done.

This is part of the standardization process that is essential moving forward in your 5S development. You should also make your employees accountable by posting the 5S scores in the work areas. This will allow them to be reviewed by others so they can look for continuous improvement opportunities and see what they need to improve on first hand. This form of auditing should be included in your standardization process as well.


Sustaining your 5S commitment is a collective effort that takes a cultural transformation to ensure it becomes the way things are done in your organization. Without the complete involvement of the organization, waste will continue to find places to hide and make the individuals that are putting the effort, have to work that much harder.

A key to getting everyone on board with your 5S sustainment process, is the example set my upper management. Their efforts do not go unnoticed. Employees will develop habits based off what they see, not what they are told. You can’t sit in an office and send out memos on how to sustain 5S, you have to get on the ground floor and show that your engaged with the process. Upper management should conduct a walk around often and be a part of the audit process so they can include their feedback, as well as hear what others have to say.

To help sustain your efforts on a day-to-day effort, you can also appoint a 5S coordinator, who are essentially volunteers that help to keep consistency, monitor progress, and push the implementation forward.

It’s up to you

5S is about efficiency. Without follow through and commitment, an efficient process is all but impossible. There are no secrets or hidden challenges that come with the process. It is a systematic approach to workplace organization that if done correctly, can make a dramatic change in your organization and culture, for the good.

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Heijunka Overview

Toyota defines Heijunka as the overall leveling, in the production schedule , of the volume and variety of items produced in given time periods and adds that it is a pre-requisite for just-in-time delivery.

The basic Japanese translation of Heijunka, is “levelization.”

Why Heijunka?

heijunka overview Production leveling, as it is also referred to is essential to any Lean facility in their pursuit to eliminate waste and improve their production efficiency. Demands frequently change and without the means to adjust, organizations will continue to fail to meet the customer’s demands, or lack their of.

No matter what industry you’re in, you will undoubtedly experience fluctuations in customer demand. Whether it’s seasonal or market influenced, you have to be prepared for change. What we’ve often seen in build-to-order approaches is a “hurry up, then slow down” attempt at meeting the changing demands of a customer. This leads to an uneven production schedule that produces more inventory than needed, overtime expenses, and the added stress on the employees and equipment that have to handle a rush of orders one week, only to be laid off the next. This is exactly the type of environment Heijunka aims to avoid.

Heijunka allows you to level your production in both volume and product diversity. Lean facilities that have implemented Heijunka, don’t base their production off the actual flow of customer orders. Instead, the company will use the Heijunka methodology to calculate the total volume of orders place in a specific time frame and level them out. This allows the facility to produce the same amount and mix each day, without the ebbs and flows of demand cycles.

Balancing your workflow has many benefits to your organization. For instance, if you have an above average week of orders, followed by a below average week, you end up paying overtime the first week and sending employees home the following. This is waste in the simplest form, that could have been avoided with Heijunka.

Heijunka has two basic objectives.


The slower but consistent tortoise causes less waste and is much more desirable than the speedy hare that races ahead and then stops occasionally to doze. The Toyota Production System can be realized only when all workers become tortoises.

Taiichi Ohno

Consistency is key with Heijunka. The strain that comes with peak ordering times is alleviated and the downtime associated with low ordering times is thus eliminated. Instead, you have a constantly working production line, working at the same pace, throughout the year.

Benefits of Heijunka:

  • Customer demands are met in total over a given period of level production.
  • Work schedules are predictable and can be planned accordingly.
  • Avoid paying overtime.
  • Finished goods inventory is in place to meet periods of high demand.
  • Less strain on employees, keeping them happy and productive.

You can’t just flip a switch and implement Heijunka. It takes a lot of discipline and even more planning to be successful. You need accurate customer data which can help provide the information you need to project certain events.

With the right information and the right culture behind you, Heijunka can be a key pillar in your Lean organization. But it’s not for everyone. You need to understand your business and your customers to determine if Heijunka is right for you.

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Theory of Constraints: Part Four

Welcome to the fourth entry in the Theory of Constraints series. Much of the first three entries covered the basics behind the theory, including a broad overview of the process and the Five Focusing Steps in part one, the Thinking process in part two, and the accounting method known as Throughput Accounting in part three. This post will now compare and contrast the Theory of Constraints and Lean thinking.

theory of constraints and lean Lean and the Theory of Constraints

Both Lean thinking and the Theory of Constraints are organizational change methods aimed at improving the organization and increasing profits. Their approaches however, have a slightly different angle.

Lean thinking has been popularized and mastered by the Toyota Production System. After WWII, Taiichi Ohno of Toyota was able to use his studies of other manufacturing methods to design a new manufacturing method that would soon revolutionize industries of all shapes and sizes.

Lean manufacturing as it is know referred to, is a method aimed at continuous improvement, efficiency, eliminating waste and the endless desire to reach perfection. Through various processes and methodologies, Lean implementers are able to use less effort, space, inventory, and product development time to streamline production to best serve their customers. They typically have fewer defects and more variety in their product lines.

Table Comparison

Lean ThinkingTheory of Constraints
GoalAdd value from the customers perspectiveIncrease throughput to increase profits.
  • Cost
  • Lead Time
  • Value-Added Percentage
  • Throughput
  • Inventory
  • Operating Expenses
What to Change?Value should be added that recognizes the entire system and eliminate all wasteConstraints: i.e. the weakest link in the system
How to implement the desired change?
  1. Identify value
  2. Identify value stream
  3. Flow
  4. Pull
  5. Perfection
  1. Identify the constraint
  2. Exploit the constraint
  3. Subordinate processes
  4. Elevate constraint
  5. Repeat
Time it takesBoth will see an immediate result, but require a sustained effort over time to see true results

As noted earlier and in the table the goal for both is to increase profit, however their focus in slightly different. Lean thinking measures put added value on the customer’s perspective. Often in a Lean facility you hear: “Would the customer pay for this?”

This question is asked repeatedly as one walks the value stream, from finished goods to raw materials. A Lean thinker is constantly asking themselves if something is adding value that a customer would pay for, or is it just waste?

On the other hand, Theory of Constraints implementers are mainly focused on eliminating constraints to add profit. As noted in previous posts in this series, a constraint is anything that prevents an organization from making progress towards a goal. In a sense, it is your weakest link and it needs to be removed in order for you to move forward.

Can They Coexist?

In some ways, yes the Theory of Constraints and Lean can coexist together, if done carefully and strategically. Both approaches believe there is something to improve, somewhere. Whether it’s continuously improving a process or constantly believing there is a constraint to seek out, both approaches keep you focused on improvement.


Both Lean and the Theory of Constraints agree that the customer’s perception of value is extremely important. In Lean, the theory is that “value can only be defined by the ultimate customer.” Theory of Constraints similarly, suggests that throughput is not achieved until the customer’s money is received for the product and thus, the customer’s perception of value is then at the top of list when considering increasing a product’s throughput.


While both provide different techniques in controlling the flow of product based on pull from the market, they both fully embrace the pull principle. In Lean manufacturing, the pull concept is approached sequentially, meaning nothing is produced upstream, until the customer downstream requests it. While the Theory of Constraints method of Drum-Buffer-Rope is completely dependent on the pull concept which is market dependent as well.

Many of Lean’s concepts can fit seamlessly into the Theory of Constraints. Gemba, Kaizen, 5S and Kanban are just a few of the many Lean tools that have aided organizations that use the Theory of Constraints in their facility. When done correctly the two systems can be extremely beneficial to one another, however it takes a strong culture that is knowledgeable and willing to adjust when needed.

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Theory of Constraints: Part 3

A major focus within the Theory of Constraints is on increasing sales, rather than cutting costs. To keep the focus on sales, implementers of the process use an accounting method known as Throughput Accounting.

Theory of Constraints Accounting MethodThe following is the third entry in a series of posts that explore the Theory of Constraints and it’s methodology.

Part one of the Theory of Constraints series, offered a broad overview of the process, defined constraints, and provided a simple breakdown of the Five Focusing Steps. Part two in the Theory of Constraints series, expanded on the Thinking Process behind the Theory of Constraints. Part three will now look into Throughput Accounting that is associated with the process.

Traditional Accounting

If we think in terms of conventional accounting, then inventory is considered an asset because in theory, it could be sold and converted into cash. This can often be misleading though and cause a false sense of security. A stockpile of inventory which appears to be increasing assets based off inventory that “could” be sold is a scary way to do business in today’s economy. Looking at a piece of paper that shows you have increased your assets based off your inventory is known as a “paper profit.” The longer you sit on your inventory, the more obsolete it becomes. The product’s value begins to decrease and whatever space that inventory is taking up, is costing you money everyday it sits unsold.

The mindset in traditional accounting methods is to keep a strong focus on how to cut expenses with a major focus on the following:

  • Net Profit
  • Return On Investment
  • Cash Flow

Throughput Accounting

Throughput Accounting takes a slightly different approach to accounting. To help alleviate any misinterpretation of numbers that conventional accounting methods produce, Throughput Accounting keeps an emphasis on the following:

Throughput: The rate at which you generate money through sales.

  • Time is taken into consideration when accounting for throughput. Instead of using product profitability comparisons, you can measure the time it takes to produce a specific unit and calculate the Throughput for each unit.
  • The money sent back to the suppliers is deducted from the Throughput figure. For example, a table selling for $20 and made up of $5 worth of plastic and other materials would have a contribution of $15 per unit. If then, 10 tables can be produced for confirmed sale per hour, the throughput for that unit is $150 per hour.
  • Anything that is in storage is not accounted for in Throughput because it is not generating money.
  • Typically, labor costs are not a factor in the Throughput calculation.

Investment: Any money tied up in the system which can be split up into two separate categories.

  • Raw materials, work in progress and finished goods
  • Investments- as in anything owned by the organization to generate Throughput. This could include machinery, fixtures and fittings.

Operating Expense:  All the money used to convert Investment into Throughput.

  • This would include all regular labor expenses, but not variable costs like payroll, utilities, taxes, etc.


Measuring the Constraints

Once you have calculated out your figures for each category; Throughput (T), Investment (I) and Operating Expense (OE), the measurements can be used throughout the organization to predict and help with future decisions.

  • Profit = T – OE
  • Return on Investment = T – (OE/I)
  • Productivity = T/OE
  • Cash Flow = T – I – OE

Using the Throughput Accounting method to measure the dollars and sense of your organization, keeps the focus on what the Theory of Constraints strives for, making money today, tomorrow and the long-term future of the organization.

Sticking with a conventional accounting methods can lead to the overproduction of inventory, which as Throughput Accounting points out, does not make money for the organization. When you tie up valuable cash flow in the costs associated with making and storing the goods, your profit margins decrease significantly.

Stay tuned for another post in this series that will compare and contrast the Theory of Constraints with Lean processes.

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Theory of Constraints: Part 2

The following is the second entry into a series of ongoing posts that explores the Theory of Constraints and it’s methodology.

Part one in the Theory of Constraints series gave a broad overview of the process, defined constraints, and offered a simple breakdown of the Five Focusing Steps. Part two will now expand on the Thinking Process behind the Theory of Constraints.

The Theory of Constraints Thinking Process

theory of constraints key to successLike Lean, the Theory of Constraints takes a certain mindset and culture to have sustainable success. To fully embrace and understand it, you have to understand the Thinking Process behind it. It’s founded on a scientific process that helps to solve problems with a sophisticated and tactical manner, with one goal in mind — increased profits.

Using a cause and effect thinking process in a scientific manner will help answer the following questions, which are a key part of the Theory of Constraints:

  • What to change?
  • What to change to?
  • How to cause the change?

Those three questions provide the framework for the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes. On a quick glance, they seem simple enough, but there’s much more to them than you think.

What to Change?

In order to determine what to change, you have to be able to identify and pinpoint the core problems. A good way to start this process is to form a list of observable symptoms. You can do this by using the cause and effect analysis to identify a common cause or core problem for any and all symptoms. You can create a roadmap of your current system to help get you to the core problems you’re trying to identify.

This is often called the Current Reality Tree.

Rather than using physical evidence, you use the evidence that is available to you. Anything that is a negative event in the system is noted and brought to light. Examples of negative events are:

  • Orders getting continuously shipped late.
  • Overabundance of inventory.
  • Increasing lead times.
  • Internal human relations issues.

Eli Goldratt refers to these as an Undesirable Effect, or UDE. The challenge is to then create a roadmap of cause-and-effect to link the undesirable effects together. This roadmap is now your tool to identify the core problem.

What to Change to?

In order to know what to change to you need to understand why the core problem exists in the first place. Once you have identified and understand the core problem, you can begin to develop an idea to resolve the problem and improve the process. A tool to help you through this step is known as the Evaporating Cloud.

The Evaporating Cloud tool is a set format with five boxes. The user identifies two opposing wants, that reflect the conflict, the need that each want is trying to accomplish, and a common objective that both needs are trying to achieve. Once completed, the user can begin to surface the assumptions that underlie the connections between the objectives and needs, needs and wants, and in the process, discover the root causes for the conflict.

The Evaporating Cloud helps to achieve the following:

  • Confirm that the conflict exists
  • Identify the conflict perpetuating a major problem
  • Resolve conflict
  • Avoid compromise
  • Create solutions in which both sides win
  • Create new breakthrough solutions to problems
  • Explain in depth why a problem exists
  • Identify all assumptions underlying problems and conflicting relationships.

How to Cause the Change?

To cause change in an organization it is important to have the right people in place to invent and promote solutions. Each organization has unique culture that needs to be taken into a consideration when implementing change. To have success then, one must consider their implementation carefully. This requires an in-depth analysis of the plan, including what actions must be taken, by whom and when. The Socratic Method has been a helpful tool to help discover how to cause change in the Theory of Constraints.

No matter how perfect your plan seems to be, there will certainly be some resistance to change in any organization.

Overcoming Resistance To Change

Within the Theory of Constraints is a process founded on the psychology that recognizes and systematically addresses the questions people intuitively have when confronted with change.

  • Is the right problem being people addressed?
  • Is the general direction that the solution is heading a good one?
  • Will the solution really work to solve the problems and what’s in it for me?
  • What could go wrong? Who might get hurt?
  • How the heck are we going to implement this thing?
  • Are we really up for this? Do we have the leadership and the commitment to pull this change off successfully?

If your plan does not address and answer each of these questions for the each of the members that are implementing and those being affected by the change, the proposed change will not have the impact it was designed to have.

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Theory of Constraints: Part 1

The Theory of Constraints is a popular methodology for organizational change and improvement that was first conceptualized by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt and introduced through his bestselling novel, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. The Theory of Constraints popularity grew quickly and is now a very popular methodology among many organizations. It’s growth and popularity has driven many to compare it to another improvement methodology that is also very popular –Lean.

This is the first in a series of posts that will dive into the Theory of Constraints and its concepts, methods, and goals. Later, I will compare and contrast it with the continuous improvement methods and thinking behind Lean.

What is the Theory of Constraints?

Key to success road sign for Theory of ConstraintsYou’re only as strong as your weakest link. The basic concept behind the Theory of Constraints is that every organization has a weak link in the form of a constraint. Constraints can be defined as any limiting factor that inhibits an organization from achieving a desired goal or anything else they might be striving for, which is usually profit. This could also be referred to as a bottleneck.

The Theory of Constraints is a methodology backed by a scientific approach to define and eliminate your weakest link. The hypothesis is that all complex systems consist of multiple linked activities like a chain, including manufacturing processes and in each chain, there is a weak link. This is then the constraint that is to be removed in order to improve your organization.

One of the strengths to the Theory of Constraints is that it emphasizes focus in world of information overload. It prioritizes improvement activities down to the current constraint and the methodology for rapidly improving it.

Constraints 101

To fully understand the Theory of Constraints, you have to understand what a constraint is. As stated earlier, a constraint is anything that prevents an organization from making progress towards a goal. They can take shape in many forms and to help you better understand them, here are some common categories of constraints:

PhysicalUsually equipment, but can also be other items, such as lack of materials, not enough people, or insufficient space.
PolicyHow you are supposed to do the work described. This could include company procedures, union contracts, or government regulations.
ParadigmThe habits and beliefs engrained into the culture that performs the work.
MarketWhen you begin to produce more than you are selling.


The goal of just about any manufacturing company is to make a profit. The Theory of Constraints includes a set of tools to help you do just that, including:

  • The Five Focusing Steps
  • The Thinking Processes
  • Throughput Accounting

The Five Focusing Steps

  1. Identify the current constraint:  The constraint can be identified through various methods. This could be any one of the before mentioned constraints, but is the single part of the process that is currently limiting the rate in which the goal is achieved.
  2. Exploit the constraint: Now that you have identified the constraint, you need to decide how to exploit it. Goldratt says the change agent needs to obtain as much capability as possible from a constraint, without undergoing expensive changes or upgrades –make the most of what you currently have.
  3. Subordinate: You can now make and implement decisions to ensure rules, behaviors and measures enable, rather than impede its ability to exploit the identified constraint.
  4. Elevate the system’s constraint: If the first three steps are successful, you can now take whatever action necessary to eliminate the constraint. All major changes to the existing system are considered in step four.
  5. Don’t allow inertia to set in: Remember this is a continuous improvement process. Once you have eliminated the constraint, return to step one and repeat. There will always be another constraint.

The five focusing steps are the keys to keeping focused and on task with the big picture. They allow you to keep track of where you are in the process and understand what still needs to be done to eliminate the constraint.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series that will expand on the thinking process, throughput accounting, as well as a breakdown the Lean and Theory of Constraints similarities and differences.

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8 Keys to Designing a Lean Facility

Coming up with the best design for your Lean facility is a task like no other. It’s takes more than skills and expertise to design a facility, especially one that emphasizes Lean philosophies. To construct a proper Lean layout, one must also add creativity to their skills and expertise to have success.

It’s not a task for just anyone to take on, but sticking the these eight keys will help you get through your journey and on your way to the Leanest facility possible.

8 Keys To Designing a Lean Facility

Looking over facility1. Sustain effort level all the way through: To propose and follow through with the best solution for your Lean facility design, you have to be prepared with the necessary effort it’s going to take. Time management is key here. Be sure to allocate enough time to address the problem and force yourself to fully concentrate on the issue from there on out.

2. Don’t let the details slow you down: Certain details have a way of working themselves out throughout the process. Remember this is also a creative process not just a scientific one. Spending too much time on one minor detail throws off the creative process and can alter your train of thought. It can also hinder your motivation and lower your effort level. If you get caught up on one detail that you don’t feel confident in at that time, move on to the next one — be patient.

3. Highlight the current flaws with questions from all angles: Using a simple technique like the 5 whys can go a long way. Don’t forget about what, who, when, where, which, and how as well. Simple questions can create simple answers to your problems and make others feel like they are contributing to the organization in more ways than one.

4. Don’t become easily satisfied: Come up with several alternatives to your problem and avoid personal bias when discussing different ideas. If you fall in love with one particular design to early in the process, it can hurt other ideas that come along later. Also, by favoring one idea over the other too early can make others involved feel like their ideas are not as important, or relevant to the solution. Having several options gives management a chance to put the best possible design in place to meet the needs of the facility. 

5. Think outside the box: Now is not the time to be conservative. Even some of the most outlandish ideas have turned out to help organizations make dramatic improvements. Just because it hasn’t been tried before, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the ability to increase your productivity and profitability. Simply adjusting a current process may be all that is needed at the time, but in order to make major leaps in improvement, one must think outside the box and re-evaluate the entire process, step by step.

6. Avoid rejecting before reflecting: A good Lean facility should always be open to new ideas. Ideas need to be brainstormed and have a chance to resonate before determining there legitimacy. Only after careful consideration and analysis of the pros and cons should an idea be rejected.

7. Be resourceful: Not every facility is the same, but it’s never a bad idea to see how others have success attempting similar projects. Talk to your peers, go to trade shows, read magazines, research websites anything else that might be a benefit to your research.

8. Collaborate: A group approach is important to embrace, but also understand it’s limitations. Gathering a small group of diverse individuals who can bring their knowledge is extremely beneficial to the project. However if not done correctly, can backfire in a hurry. Be careful not to criticize, instead value each contribution equally, without judgement. Build on each other’s ideas and encourage open dialogue to spark creativity. 

Many of these ideas and concepts are not new to a Lean practitioner, but they are important to bring back to the forefront when tackling a big project like this. Designing a Lean facility is a crucial task your continuous improvement process, sticking to the fundamentals while taking it on will help you tremendously in your journey.

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Value Stream Mapping 101

Value stream mapping is considered one of the most powerful visual tools in Lean. Regardless of the type of work you do, they can be an extremely useful part of your work and help eliminate waste, in areas you never knew waste existed.

What is a Value Stream?

A commonly used and basic definition of a value stream is as follows:

All the steps, both value adding and non-value adding required to take a product or service from raw material to the waiting arms of the customer.

What’s a Value Stream Map?

Value Stream MappingThe visual tool is a method for documenting all the activities needed to take a customer from the initial ordering process, to the fulfillment. The map is usually placed within a close proximity to the actual work. This allows workers to have a direct observation of everything needed to happen in order to complete the process and add as necessary.

This mapping of events gives the whole team a visual representation of the entire flow of processes, from beginning to end. Now individuals who usually only have access to their particular act in the process, have a chance to see the whole process and how their actions effect the flow.

A value stream map is considered a dynamic document because it is continually updated as process are improved.

Keep in mind that a value stream map is not a traditional process map. There might be some similarities that would have you think otherwise, but there a major differences. For instances, value stream maps focus on information flow and material flow, whereas most process flows only concentrate on material flow and leave out information flow.

Three Types of Maps

1. Process Level- These maps focus on the material and information flow within a particular cell or production line.

2. Factory Level or “Door to Door”- The material and information flow within the walls of the factory are the focus.

3. Extended or Enterprise Level- The material and information flow of several companies gets highlighted on this map.

Why Value Stream?

  • Visualization: Creates a visual representation of the entire process for the entire team to view, allowing them to see ( some for the first time) the linkage between material and information flow. This not only allows you to see the process as a whole, but also see what both your internal and external customers are experiencing.
  • Spot Waste: When you break down a process in such a meticulous manner, you are able to spot waste like you never have before.
  • Focus and Alignment: There is always a focus on the product, but little on the process. A value stream map puts a focus on the process by bringing together the people that actually do the work, giving them an opportunity to improve and implement new processes.

Value Stream Mapping In Eight Steps

1. Communicate From the Top: The first thing that needs to be done once management has decided to implement a value stream approach is develop a communication plan. Everyone needs to be on the same page. This is done by presenting the need to understand why flow is important to the business needs of the company and how they will be a part of the process.

2. Identify Primary Product Families: Using specific techniques like product routing and product quantity analysis, define your products and families in the process.

3. Create a Current State Value Stream Map: This is what you can see and touch in the current moment. Not what you hope or expect to see. How is your process functioning right now? Get to the Gemba and find out!

4. Create a Future State Value Stream Map: This represents the ideal condition that can be achieved in the next two to three months. This is the goal for what you want the process to look like, creativity is encouraged here.

5. Develop Detailed Action Plans: Without a plan of action, you have nothing. How are you going to get from a current state to a future state? Develop a plan that will get you to your desired state,  leave no detail unattended.

6. Appoint a Value Stream Manager: This leadership role takes a motivated individual who is able to bring the diverse departments together for one goal, for one company. This is a critical role and can not be taken lightly.

7. Communicate Progress Often: Communication is important before, during and after a value stream mapping event. Action plans and maps need to be out and open to create open and honest communication between employees.

8. Map all Value Streams: Repeat previous seven steps for other product families.

While there’s a lot more to each step, this overview provides the basics to a very important Lean technique. A technique that when done right, will provide more value to your customer through a complete evaluation of your creation process by minimizing waste in the design and delivery process.

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