“The Line always goes down at the X!”. Fill in the blank. How often do you hear this? That the piece of equipment that goes down on a line or in a process is blamed for the downtime or quality issue. This can sometimes turn into a belief or perception instead of actual information. The equipment is a piece of junk or we have a rebuild coming up or its always been this way are some comments I have heard. What I find interesting is that some organizations at one time or another think this is okay or that this response will satisfy customer demand, employees frustrations or shareholders needs for returns.

I look back at my career and wonder if I have had the reaction to things. I probably have, though I can’t think of it. I am the kind of person that focuses on a few items and then I don’t even look at anything else. I have multiple blind spots and maybe that is why I don’t have too many memories of this type of issue. My real concern is how do we get root cause and deeper thought at the level of manifestation to drive to causation and countermeasure. How do we get this type of analysis of the situation at the very level of incident?

What if we give employees the basic knowledge of their job and then 3 more actions:

  1. If your work becomes harder, notice it
  2. Look where the issue is occurring
  3. Is the problem before or during the process

With these actions, they will at least be able to find out if the issue is internal or external to the process. From that, the lead should be able to do the same 3 steps at their level.

This should at least start the conversation on causation.


Waitress at a restaurant notices that the meals are coming out late and the customers are getting frustrated. Is their job harder? Yes. Okay, I have noticed this. Instead of going back to the cook and yelling, is there something else that I can notice? Are other people getting their food late? Yes or no or don’t know. Am I picking up my food when it is ready? Am I putting my orders in the right process? May be the ordering process is broken or someone called in sick.

You are at your piece of equipment and jams start occurring. Where are they occurring? They are at the end of the process. What is causing it?

Are there areas where continuous improvement / Lean Six Sigma do not need to be used or shouldn’t be used?

What about a known solution? Is there no risk related to this change? Is everyone aware of the changes? Even if there is a known solution, if it crosses process owners and potential unintended consequences, it is wise to at least review the process, look at an FMEA, Change Management and Control plan.

What about CapEx or buying equipment? Would that need LSS help? Let me ask you, in your experience, how many of these projects have been on-budget, on-time, and SLA’s, service level agreements, are satisfied? I have found that is not the case. Early management, Risk assessment, Widening the options for what to purchase and when are all items that continuous improvement could help with. This doesn’t even include the CapEx process that most companies struggle with.

I started thinking about this idea based on the belief that there are some items and topics that continuous improvement. I now think that there is always a better way and that CI tools can help in any situation. I have had multiple discussions in the companies that I have worked with and almost all of them have had what they perceived as “A players.” They are very capable and smart and know their business but I have rarely seen one of these teams put together a project that produces better results or less unintended consequences than a good process. Great teams have a hard time beating a great process.

I will be the first one to say that I want to make a large improvement without any expense or capital. I have always stated that the requirements of money to improve a process is like hedging my bets. It is like saying Lean Six Sigma isn’t enough. I hate that idea and yet I find that without some kind of commitment from the leadership or organization, it is difficult to make the changes stick and change the culture. This investment comes in a few forms that I will explain below.

Resources. Though this rarely shows up as money, when chartering the process improvement or the scope and team, make sure you determine, to the best of your ability, who needs to be involved and, more importantly, how much time will they need to commit to on a weekly basis for this project to be successful. This will force the organization to free up the resources and take items off the teams plate for the duration of the project. Good stuff but that turns into dollars just like anything else.

SME Time. This is Subject Matter Experts time. This is the time needed for individuals in the organization that are not on the team but have real expertise in an item that is within scope and the team is lacking knowledge. This time, once again, can be hard to estimate but it must be done prior to the project kicking off. This is sometimes even more difficult to pull off for leadership or organization because the SME’s time is critical. The leadership will really have skin in the game if they do this as long as they carve out the time and make it flexible based on the project team’s needs. If the leadership states that the SME will have to “work it in” and not take anything off their plate because of the cost to the business you have your answer about their commitment.

Real $’s. Not that I want this to make process changes but doing this means a couple of items. The organization has committed to whatever the money is to ensure this will work. This is above and beyond the spend on your services if you are a consultant or contractor. This also means that the leadership has had a discussion about the needs of the organization and what they want out of the project.

In the end, I don’t want to money and resources to “help me” to improve the process. I want the money and resources to gage if the company is honest about what they want to do and have skin in the game during and after the event to make it stick.

I have been reading The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Reis and Jack Trout. Some of the “Laws” are interesting and even though it is about marketing there are great lessons for the CI professional. One of the first ones I gravitated to was the Law of Singularity.

The Law of Singularity as explained by the authors is subtitled “In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. This is focused on marketing strategies that are different than what the company has done in the past. I was taking this idea a little differently. When looking at it from the CI perspective, I was thinking about the output from a value stream mapping exercise or process mapping exercise. Everyone finds their pain points and opportunities but we are sometimes constrained by the goal, scope and metrics that drive the process. What if we looked deeper before mapping the process and really look at instead of a “better” process, a different, more strategic process? I realize this is part of the future state map exercise but rarely does the team, leadership or sponsor have the courage to truly blow-up the process and look at something totally new.

The other point to this chapter is to focus on the one element that will make the biggest impact. This means when there is a laundry list of pain points, focus on the one that makes the biggest change. There is no reason to try to fix everything since everything doesn’t matter all that much and you don’t have the resources to do it anyway. This one item can usually be the pivot point for a whole new process. This is helpful when the team is stuck on improving what is already there instead of envisioning the what could be.

Reducing waste by 30%, increase throughput by 1000 widgets an hour, improve “customer experience” by 10 basis points. Very inspiring. How about starting with, “If you opened your own business, would you even do this process?” or “If you have to do it, how would you do it, regardless of what systems and processes are in place?” Is it helpful to have this kind of conversation without the sponsor of process and leadership behind the potential changes? No. This just demoralizes the team and then the process suffers. Next thing you know you hear these types of phrases in the hallways – “The process didn’t work” or “We used to do that” or “We need a new team or new leadership.” This is the typical response. Culturally, is your business able to pull this off? If not, improve the process but understand you need to start sowing the seeds of fundamental change.

When looking at processes, let’s not just “improve” them, lets change them or destroy them for the better.


How many projects do you work on that the leadership ask you two quarters later if you are sustaining the gains? Hopefully, more than I have through my career. One tool that I find that is not used often enough are the 1-sided and 2-sided t-tests. These tests can prove that the team’s work has been statistically significant from the perspective. I will be setting up a Vlop shortly to explain, with an example of a t-test but below is a discussion related to the uses of the tool rather than the mechanics.

t-tests should be used when testing if there is a change. This is part of the baseline data / measure phase. This will show you when your pilots have a statistically significant change in the metric. Many statistically astute leaders know this but don’t use this as a tool to track process improvements. It is not as slick as DOE’s and ANOVA’s to see where there are issues but those tools aren’t as easy to understand and, from my perspective, limited in use.

t-tests can easily be shown throughout the process life cycle. From baseline data through control, the t-test can show improvement. This can be used for almost any audience too. I have used this with Finance teams to see if there has been sustained improvement that leads to an individual G/L account. I have used this with parts of HR organizations related to talent acquisition, Outsourcing effectiveness, and payroll transactions. I have had to explain this with some groups but I have not had any say that this doesn’t make sense or not a key part of understanding improvement.

t-tests as trigger points. As an example, every week we check downtime as it relates to production. If the t-test shows that the average downtime is greater than the standard, move into corrective action, root cause analysis, countermeasure.

t-tests should be used to recognize improvements during a project, report out findings at the end of an improvement cycle as well as a dashboard metric to know if the process is staying on track or not.


There is an increase drive to eliminate reports in large organizations. So much time spent putting them together and who is looking at them let alone is there anything actionable being address or even triggered. It goes without saying that as systems gain the ability to track more, the more is usually noise not signal. I have been in meetings and discussions about rationalizing reports but I find that the discussion looks at quantity and who receives it. All good stuff but I think there are other questions that need to be asked.

What are the metrics and information that drive the business? This is a different question than do you use this report and, if so, what do you look at. Driving the business and the risks to that business are the only items that should be tracked. This type of discussion, across the organization, will create metrics that everyone shares and needs to be focused on. This takes longer and multiple parts of the organization need to be at the table but this will create a discussion and understanding across the organization. Total Landed Cost is one that can unite multiple parts of the team. This will create better meetings and better decisions across the supply chain. This will eliminate 50% of the reporting requirements and streamline discussions.

How much time and/or resources are required to generate these reports? This is better than discussing the number of reports or different types. This recognizes the fact that reports aren’t free and that making them “personalized” for each “leader” is a waste. How many times have you experienced someone stating that they focus on this set of metrics or I like mine in columns versus rows? Does the leader have to defend this to the wider organization? Do they work with their peers to find the format that works? Rarely. What work does this eliminate? This is a question I ask before I put together any report. If it is going to be business as usual, I recommend that the report does not get developed.

What are you going to do with the information? What is actionable? This is better than what do you do this report. So many reports are related to FYI reports or nice to know. I know there are reports that leaders think are actionable. “Johnny, this number stinks. Fix it.” That is not actionable. Actionable means that you having triggers that once they are reached, there are corrective actions and countermeasures as well as root cause analysis that need to set up to support the report.

The report problem needs to be solved but not by making them easier or doing fewer of them. You need to decide what is important, track it and develop improvements when needed.


When performing CI projects one of the items that leadership wants to know is “How much revenue will you generate or savings will we get out of this project?” It is a fair question but it never really gets to the real question. “Is this going to work for the process and will it keep working?” This is a different question with different metrics.

$’s per transaction or $’s per venue are very good metrics for determining if one is winning or not. These are very important metrics for both business as well as the wider stakeholder audience. Very easy to see and communicate. The only issue is that these are output metrics and to say that all of this is in a business’s control is, from my perspective, hard to believe. I would rather measure input metrics that can be seen daily if not hourly by the process owners and develop triggers and countermeasures to deal with the eventual / inevitable. It also never has dollars in the numerator or denominator.

Input metrics benefit the company in three ways. One is that input metrics, if chosen and developed correctly, should track critical behaviors. These are the very actions that create or destroy value in a process. Another aspect is that if they are visual and set up so they are easy to see before it affects the output metric. This is very important not only due to reaction time but because there are many elements that can affect the output, these are insulated and can show that the process is in control and the issue is outside of the process and resources can be directly elsewhere. The third piece of an input metric is that there are triggers or thresholds that, once reached, corrective action and countermeasures can be taken. On output metrics, this is very hard to find the cause and effect so draconian measures are normally used to get the process back “in control.”

I am not a great supporter in looking for savings or profits in specific line items in P&L statements but I am not a fan of the click our heals and think good thoughts. I think the metrics that need to be focused are the critical inputs that are directly correlated to the output one is seeking. That is not enough, though, because triggers and countermeasures have to be put in place as well. Using this type of tracking of project success ensures that the process owners see what is working, understand what is out of scope and have action plans when the process has outliers.