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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: Visualization Part One: What's Going On?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 12, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


Imagine a radio contest…caller number three…free tickets to the Super Bowl. You win! A limo picks you up and drives you to the airport where you fly first class and check into a five-star hotel. You decide to take a short nap before the game – but you oversleep. You rush out of the hotel to your limo and frantically yell at the poor driver to "step on it!" He tries, but traffic is so bad that you miss the kick-off. As you jump out of the car and hurriedly scramble through the security checkpoints you realize that you are so late you don't even know what quarter it is. As you settle into your seat, the crowd erupts with a joyous roar! Something great has just happened and you missed it. You don't know the score, the down or even which team has possession of the ball. You are lost in a vast sea of confusion and over-priced beer.

If only there were some way, some magical tool that you could use to get up to speed on everything. Something that could tell you exactly what you needed to know in order to just relax and enjoy the rest of the game…

If only…

If you have managed to envision this scenario, congratulations, you have just participated in what most people view as "visualization." It is almost always interpreted as something imaginary as part of some nebulous exercise (often in futility). However, for the purposes of Kaizen and Standard Quality, visualization has a tangible presence and a deeper purpose. It is a powerful tool that provides a method for employees to immediately know what's going on and, more importantly, what they are supposed to do.

With much love to Mr. Marvin Gaye, let's tackle what's going on in this month's article.

Think back to the Super Bowl, to our hapless contest winner, late to the stadium, not knowing heads or tails as to the game. What to do?

Anyone, at this point, currently yelling, "Look at the scoreboard!" has already grasped the power of visualization.

If processes are properly documented and standardized (see last month's article), a manager needs only to observe the Gemba with the mindset of identifying deviations from the standard. Visualization provides an easy means to this end. Like the scoreboard at a sporting event, proper visual reporting tools at the Gemba will allow a manager to quickly identify anomalies so that action can be taken.

Visual tools can be created for almost every possible tracking metric: loading, unloading, processing (these are primarily productivity based), safety numbers, environmental impact (compliance based), even total transactions (as McDonald's says with their "Over 99 Billion Served," indeed).

There are three main criteria for a successful visualization tool:

1. It must be visible
Perhaps this may have been filed under "obvious," but leaving nothing to chance is part of the Kaizen philosophy. If you have a visual tool, it needs to be big enough, clear enough, and displayed well enough so that anyone can easily see it while working. Having a KPI update posted on the bulletin board in the lunch room will savor shallow effectiveness towards any real improvement on the Gemba floor. Thinking back to the scoreboard at the Super Bowl, is this difficult to be seen from any seat in the house?

2. It must be easy to understand
Not just talking language here, the visual tool must be simply designed and clearly laid out so that any operator looking will instantly know the status; an even better tool is understood without having to be trained first.

3. It must be easy to update/change
The tool must be a living, adaptable entity. The manager must be able to update the metrics in as close to real time as possible in order to reflect the current (or as close to current as practical) situation.

Large monitors displaying KPI's, such as CBM per operator hour or safety numbers or the like, that can be updated remotely are quite effective. However, visual tools need not be uber high-tech. A few sporadically placed dry erase boards with fresh markers can do the trick. As long as a manager can update as needed the tool will be effective. Once again, like most things Kaizen, the method is not as important as the methodology.

An easy illustrative example is to consider a warehouse, specifically the outbound loading process. The standard time for this process is two hours. At the beginning, as the empty is secured, the lead writes the time, 9:00 am, on a dry erase board by the outbound door. If at noon a manager notices that the container is still being loaded, he/she can stop and investigate. What is causing this drop in productivity? What steps can be taken to get the team back on track? Whether or not the question can be easily answered is not the point here – the manager would not have known to ask the question without the rule and the dry erase board.

Next month's article will delve deeper into visualization as it pertains to Kaizen's "make the rule/follow the rule" aspect. Until then, remember, if you don't keep score, NOBODY CAN WIN.


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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The Gold Standard of Standardization

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 15, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


There's a mindset today regarding the term "standardization." Many people, upon hearing it, are instantly struck with the image of dystopian robots all in a line, tethered to a conveyor belt as various tiny pieces of widgets roll past. Each assembles in a rote, rigid, identical manner until one comes across a piece that doesn't quite fit. At this moment, a buzzer goes off and the floor opens up, dropping said robot into the trash pit, the floor closes and another identical machine drops into its place. The conveyor starts again and everything continues…

In fact, there are many recent books on the subject, blasting the concept of standardization as a master plan enacted by Cabal of Evil Corporations in order to reduce a human to a mere cog in a wheel.

This is not true.

In the realm of quality, from a Kaizen perspective, standardization is a merely a means to identify opportunities to improve; it is a tool, nothing more.

Yusen, as mentioned before, has a simple yet effective philosophy when it comes to its Kaizen Culture:

Make the Rule. Follow the Rule. Improve the Rule.

Kaizen is improving. Standardization is making and following.

If a company has standard processes it is quite easy to identify anomalies – square pegs that are asked to fit in round holes – and once anomalies are identified, they can be addressed and THIS is the nature and purpose of a quality management system.

Standardization does not only apply to physical processes (unloading, picking, transload); it is equally effective in an office environment. Any task that is performed multiple times per day and/or by multiple operators is ripe for making a rule and following that rule.

MAKE THE RULE
To be fair, historically, the term "standardization" has been linked to the term "SOP" and is usually accompanied by visions of a twenty-plus page "set of stereo instructions" of a document that reads with all the fiery passion of a phone book and is quickly relegated to an oversized coaster on someone's desk. However, a documented procedure doesn't have to be rigid or boring; in fact, at the risk of this author being put on double-secret-probation by the quality police, the truth of the matter is unless a customer specifically requires a particular format, a procedure doesn't even have to be formal. A bullet-point list, a set of photos with a sentence or two of instruction, or even a handwritten (hopefully with nice penmanship) set of notes can go a long way towards standardization. As John Lennon would have said had he been in quality, "Whatever gets you through the night is alright."

The first step, as always, is to Genchi Genbutsu (go look, go see) at the Gemba (where the work is) and document what is ACTUALLY happening. This is key. What should never happen, yet surprisingly does more often than not, is for a group of managers to sit in a room and write out the procedure based on what is "supposed to happen." It is critical to first observe the process. Observe several team members doing the process several times and take note of the steps. Take photos. Use a stopwatch to time each step of the process. Once the data is complete, the entire team (including the process owners, i.e., the people doing the procedure) should go over the collected data. Find common steps done by multiple team members. If one member has a unique step not shared by the others, discuss this. Why? Does it help the process or hinder? Can it be applied to everyone or is it geared towards a certain customer or product? Use this information to create the definitive standardized procedure and then…

FOLLOW THE RULE
This is the beauty of a Kaizen Culture. Rules don't have to be debated or endlessly studied as there is the third feature of "Improve the Rule" that is a constant check and balance to any procedure. Once the procedure is created, once the rule is made, the next step is making sure it is followed. If not done already, make sure the rule is documented in a tangible form (remember, unless dictated by customer requirements, use whatever format is easy and understandable by the process owners – this does not have to be fine literature). If possible, share the new procedure around the Gemba: print multiple copies and display, make a poster, send an e-mail to every process owner, whatever works. After it is made available, train all applicable employees in the new procedure. If a formalized class is not necessary, simply add to a morning meeting or weekly cadence; just make sure that every team member is aware of the new rule. Finally, monitor the process to make sure everyone is following.

That is it. Congratulations. A standardized process is now in place.

As the procedure is being followed, anything that violates the process will stand out and can be analyzed as a potential issue or opportunity for Kaizen (Improving the Rule).

Next month's article will focus on ways to add a visualization component to a Gemba.

Until then, remember, it's the PROCESS that is standardized, never the person!


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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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.

CLICK HERE to return to the DECEMBER 2014 RVCF LINK

Tags:  Kaizen 

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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: Kaizen is NOT a Four Letter Word

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 13, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, November 11, 2014

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


There's a common refrain one hears when broaching the subject of Kaizen to a neophyte, "I'm just too focused on our day-to-day operations to really concentrate on continuous improvement at this time." This is tantamount to saying, "I'm too busy chasing cows to repair this broken fence."

The resistance is understandable. For too long, the word "Kaizen" has been followed by the word "Project." To the uninitiated, Kaizen can often come across as "homework" – something one has to go and DO. It requires resources and meetings and time and focus and energy and with a full workload, most employees just don't have enough to give. In fact, many employees have suggested Kaizen projects to prove the futility of doing Kaizen projects and while their hearts might be in as right a place as their tongues are firmly in cheek, they are missing the point.

Kaizen was never designed to be external. It was never intended to be a result. Kaizen, when done properly, is a method, a tool to reduce non-value added steps and, in general, make an employee's life easier. Kaizen needs to be part of an organization's DNA to be fully effective. However, it does not need to be a goal unto itself. The raison d'etre of Kaizen is to ELIMINATE MUDA (waste) and make small streamlines to processes resulting in their being done with the maximum productivity bang for minimal effort buck.

In that spirit, Yusen Logistics has ushered in a new age of Kaizen by "improving the way we improve." By taking the philosophy of Kaizen and streamlining it to its essence, Yusen has created a fully fluid yet robust new "Kaizen Culture" based on the paradigm of:

Make the Rule…

Follow the Rule…

Improve the Rule.

Make the Rule:
The beauty of Kaizen is that it is a gemba-based methodology. "Gemba" translates as "the real place" but for the purposes of process improvement, it means "where the work is." One is never going to be able to fully understand what is going on by just talking about processes and reading SOPs. The only way to see the real picture is to "genchi gembutsu" (go look, go see) at the "gemba" (where the work is). At first this may seem an obvious step but it is astounding how often the gemba is ignored when the subject of process improvement comes up.

The first step in Kaizen is to go to the gemba. Observe the employees, notice how each may do the same task in a different way, analyze as to which is the most effective and document the best practice. This is a procedure. This is a rule.

Follow the Rule:
It isn't enough to merely have documentation as to how we "say" we're supposed to do something. We have to ensure that everyone is doing the process correctly. To accomplish this we train. We create visual indicators to facilitate ease of understanding and, most importantly, we "genchi gembutsu" and monitor. This is the key to standardization and once standardization is achieved, it's very easy to notice anomalies in the process. Each variance is an opportunity to ask "Why? What caused the variation? Is it possible that a better way of doing the process has been found?" If so…

Improve the Rule:
Once a procedure is fully standardized and consistently followed, we look for opportunities to streamline and make it even more efficient. And, if we find them?

We make another rule. Follow that rule and then look to improve again.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Forever.

Kaizen is not about grand, sweeping, earth-shattering, huge undertakings. That is not to say that re-engineering and re-design projects are not necessary and effective, they are just not under the umbrella of Kaizen. Kaizen is an employee-centric language of empowerment; it embraces the concept of "wisdom of the organization" and exists to provide the tools and empowerment for each employee, an expert in his/her own right at a particular job, to take ownership in the tasks he/she performs and to know how to make the tiny improvements that ultimately will add up to big gains.

Kaizen is a series of base hits that ultimately wins the game, not the one grand slam home run that gets all the press. It's the lift operator who finds a way to shave off 90 seconds per load. It's the office employee who designs a visualization tool to indicate when toner needs to be reordered for the copier. It's the manager who develops "job aids," visual step-by-step process training tools, and posts them around the gemba so that new employees can have a quick reference. Base hits.

In the upcoming months, we will be delving deeper into the world of Kaizen, including a deeper look into each step of Yusen's Kaizen philosophy (make the rule, follow the rule, improve the rule), problem solving with PDCA, visualization, clearing workflow with 5S, and much more. Yusen hopes that readers will be able to take these tools back to their gembas and make improvements today that will ease their own mudas.

Until next month, remember: Kaizen is a road, not a destination.


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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