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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: The ABC's of PDCA – Part 1

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 9, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, July 7, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


It's summer time – beach season – the time when many commit themselves to a fitness plan in order to shed a few extra pounds or get back into shape. This is a great correlation to what happens in a gemba when a problem is discovered. The last few months' articles have given tools and (hopefully) inspired you to standardize processes and put visualization in place so that you can easily identify members of The Anomaly Family (see last month's article). But what happens when an anomaly is discovered? Action must be taken. This problem must be solved; this process improved. This is the FINAL step of Kaizen (Make the Rule, Follow the Rule, IMPROVE THE RULE).

When we talk about problem solving or process improvement, there is no better methodology than PDCA – Plan. Do. Check. Act.

This month's article will explore the Plan Phase.

Thinking again to our beach fitness program, what's the first thing one does when embarking on a new exercise regimen (besides having one last huge meal that is really bad for you)? Typically the first step is the dreaded "before" photo. A subject takes a few pictures in horribly unflattering positions – front, profile, back – of what he/she looks like at this moment in time. If really motivated, he/she may even take a few measurements, get blood work, or get pinched by the evil calipers to detect body mass indexes and fat percentages and blood glucose levels. Data. Data. Data. All of this is so that, triumphantly, at the end of a long hard fought battle, he/she may look back upon this day and know that the hard work was worth it all. But first, the embarrassing part. This is the Plan Phase. It is a snapshot of what the process looks like today. Nothing has been done. No action taken. No data analyzed. It is the "before" photo. And it is critical.

The Plan Phase has three components:

1. Describe the Problem
There are many schools of thought on what constitutes a good problem statement – some have even distilled it to a formula. A quick Google search can yield as many templates as one could ever use. However, for our purposes and for Kaizen in general, don't worry so much about format or form, just focus on capturing an accurate assessment of:

  • What is happening?
    • Late deliveries
    • Late shipment
    • Mis-ships
    • Employee turnover
    • Customer dissatisfaction
    • Errors
    • Accidents/injuries
  • Where is it happening?
    • On the outbound side of XYZ orders
    • At the kitting station for ABC Domestic
    • All accounts in the new facility
  • How long has it been happening?
    • For the last two months
    • Since this peak season
    • For as long as the account has been active
  • What are the ramifications if not addressed?
    • We lose business $$$
    • We have to hire more staff which will decrease profits $$$
    • We have to pay to correct mis-ships $$$
    • $$$
    • $$$ (starting to get the picture??)

Be specific. Make sure that everyone involved in the project understands exactly what is happening. This is much more important that making sure the commas are in the right place on the statement!

2. Collect Data
Remember, process improvement is like a fitness program or diet: before anything is done, we need a snapshot. Document the process – hopefully this is already done as you are a fan of this column (it could happen) and have applied the concepts of Article 3 to your Gemba – or verify that the process that is documented is being followed (there have been cases where problems have been solved at this level, merely by discovering that there was no procedure in the first place or that the procedure was not being properly executed). Once the process is documented, define and gather applicable metrics: time studies, CBM's per employee hour, customer satisfaction rating, etc… Take time for this. Make sure at the end of the day there is a real understanding of the reality of this process – what steps are followed and how long, how fast, and how well they are being performed.

3. Create a Goal
Like the problem statement, entire wings of libraries can be filled with books on goal setting. An internet search for "S.M.A.R.T. goal" will yield fertile crops of knowledge. Again, our purposes here are geared more towards clarity than format, but S.M.A.R.T. is a great jumping off point for creating a clear goal. For lack of a better turn of phrase, a S.M.A.R.T. start is to make sure your goal is:

Specific – "Bring about world peace" is not specific; "reduce carbon emissions by 16%" is.

Measurable – If a goal is made, there really needs to be a way to know if it's been achieved. If you stand on the scale in 6 weeks and the number is less than before, "Congratulations!" You've achieved your fitness goal.

Achievable – Can this be done by the resources currently available? (Watch Austin Powers for the "100 BILLION DOLLARS" scene for further explanation.)

Relevant – Will achieving this goal actually impact your life or business in a significant way. (Increasing the margin on bi-annual LCL shipments to Antarctica by .27 cents is not really going to accomplish anything.)

Time-bound – Build in a deadline or you risk never accomplishing the goal.

At the end of the Plan Phase, you should have a clear idea of what is happening (backed up by data) and what you intend to do about it. But remember, no actions have been taken at this point.

Next month's article will explore the Do Phase.


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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