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The Beauty of Anomaly/The Power of Why

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


Think of a famous cliché – a universal preconceived notion. An innocuous example might be "people who drive red cars get more speeding tickets than other drivers."

Now ask why this is a universal notion. Was there a study? Did a report go out in a scholarly journal that tracked speeding tickets and car color? Does snopes.com confirm this? (They don't.) Then why is this common belief? Could it be that the only time one thinks of this cliché is when a red car goes whizzing by doing ninety mph when everyone else is doing sixty-five or a red car is seen on the side of the road in front of a set of flashing blue and red lights?

This is the power of anomaly at work. People notice that which is incongruous to the norm.

Moving into the world of Logistics, the realm of Kaizen, anomalies should never be viewed as a negative. In fact, from a Kaizen perspective, anomaly is actually synonymous with opportunity. If processes are properly standardized and gembas (work areas) utilize visualization to communicate procedures, any deviation should immediately trigger the Kaizen mindset of "why."

"Why" always leads to – at least a chance of – improvement.

Admittedly, this is NOT the normal reaction to a deviation. The common, human response to anomaly is, for lack of a softer term, to complain. Anomalies tend to trigger complaining. However, if further thought is given to the matter, the definition of complaining could be "the communication of an anomaly." At the very least, that's how it should be defined. So, to take this to its logical synthesis, complaining is actually opportunity whispering in one's ear:

Hey, we have a chance to make this better...

...but there is work to be done and that work starts with "why."

So one may hear, "The dray carrier is always late" or "Vendor Z always changes the cargo ready date" or even the ol' chestnut, "System X is messed up, it's got a ton of errors and issues." However, when pressed ("Okay, what specifically are the errors? The issues? How many? How often do they occur?"), typically these questions cannot be answered because the data is merely anecdotal and often emotional (reported in the midst of frustration). And when further challenged to provide tracking, "a ton" may become "five" or it may prove to be "fifty." Regardless, it still provides opportunity.

Yusen has a policy of instantly addressing any quality (or safety) issues. If an anomaly occurs in the way a process is supposed to unfold, it is immediately faced, even if the only action taken is the documenting of the occurrence along with any pertinent details, which can ultimately be the linchpin that bridges the gap between problem and solution. After all, "the devil is in the details."

Gathering specific information, including what happened, when it happened, how often it happened, who was involved, and why it happened, if discernible, can enable a quality manager to get a clearer picture of the issue and with the use of tools, like Mr. Pareto's famous chart and the "80/20 rule" (80% of the effect is due to 20% of the causes), suddenly the problem achieves specificity, which is precisely what one needs to tackle it.

Noticing the anomaly is only half of the equation. You should collect data so that trends can be identified and informed results can be reported; more importantly, action can be taken. This collection doesn't even have to be fancy or highly technical – a quick spreadsheet, a dry erase board and a few markers, or even a trusty sheet of paper is all that is needed to begin. Just begin. Track. As Hemingway said, "The shortest answer is doing the thing."

Next month's article will break down the process of standardization and will be followed by a unit on visualization. The goal in the next few months is to provide a framework – a basis to notice and track anomalies – so that a problem can be identified and, in later months, tackled with PDCA and Kaizen initiatives. Yusen OCM hopes that these skills can be adapted and utilized to improve gembas everywhere.

Until then, remember to also take note of red cars that are not speeding!


Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Kaizen 

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