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  • Writer's picturehidet77

Standards and Kaizen

I often ran into the following conditions;

“We have standards. But we don’t practice Kaizen.”


Are we saying that the standards are perfect? The performance seems far from perfect. If so, why are the standards not continuously improving?

Perhaps the most enormous gap is the perception around “standards.”

Here are some typical “diseases” that I see.

1️⃣ Ignore

2️⃣ Calculation

3️⃣ Blame

“Standard” is a word used in business operations often.

What I learned is that good inputs create good output. “Standards” define what is good. Therefore, we should have standards for many things. We should have standards for every input of man, machine, material, and method. And good outputs come from good standards. Or the reason why we have bad performance comes from inadequate standards. As long as the output is imperfect, there is an opportunity to improve something. As long as the output is unstable, we have room to improve. In such an environment, Kaizen should be the norm. There should be constant discovery of holes or weaknesses in the standards, and we must fix them.

There are many places with poor output. Yet, standards remain as is. Continuous improvement is foreign. What has happened?

Here are some sad symptoms that I have seen;

1️⃣ Learned to ignore

One of the saddest things is that people start to ignore the link from the standards.

People don’t see the link between the standards and results. People don’t know the connection between the reality and the standards.

I am one of those weird people who actually pick up a standard and walk around to see things in reality. Very often, I find deviations.

“Why is the temperature set higher than standard torrence?”

“… you know that these thermostats break and have different readings.”

“If so, how do you control the conditions of these thermostats? How frequently do you check? What is the standard on thermostats?”


And I know that thermostats are delicate. I have children. They often have a high fever at home but low at their pediatrician. The school has a policy of not sending kids with temperatures higher than a certain amount. But every parent knows that that reading depends. The bottom line is whether kids attend school relies on parents' random judgment.

But, in an industrial setting, our decisions shouldn’t be random. Temperature is an essential variable for many processes. If so, measuring the temperature correctly plays an important role. There should be a system to control them. Ignoring the actual condition for whatever reason doesn't make any sense.

One of the sad things about these people who learned to ignore the link between standard, Genba, and results is that they start to think of standard as paperwork. They will ask, “What are the formats of Toyota’s standards?” And focus on filling out the format instead of including the philosophy. Toyota’s standards come with actually following them at the Genba and Kaizen. Kaizen should never stop if we care about the link.

2️⃣ Calculate

The second group of misbehavior is that they care about the results too much. The results were far from expected. So what do they do? They start adding weird calculations so that the results become 100%.

“The required quantity needs to add 10% for the defect.”

“We take one hour away to start the shift.”

“The tolerance is adjusted to what we can sustain, not based on what we need to sustain.”

As a result, the factory has many defects, but it is within the standard. We have bizarre shift start-ups, but nobody cares. Engineering standards have many adjustments overridden by someone, and nobody knows which one is the latest.

Yet, the silly KPIs, such as OEE, are showing 100%!

I was in a company where the plant manager was accused of low (40%) OEE. The other factories were showing 90 - 100%. (Yeah, that’s already something wrong.) The plant manager didn’t make excuses but claimed they had many opportunities. Eventually, the manager was replaced. The new one did make the OEE hit higher than 90%. It is just that the output went down, and the cost went up. Eventually, the plant closed.

The bottom line is that no matter your intention to introduce the calculation, it will hide problems. Even if it is temporary, it will stay and keep hiding problems. Even worse is that nobody knows how much they added in calculations. In many cases, each separated function secretly adds things, and nobody understands in total how much. The accumulation adds up quickly, sometimes finding two more factories inside one.

3️⃣ Blame

Another breed of standard destroyers are the ones that blame one thing.

There was a line that had a “20%” defect rate. I was told to help them solve the issue.

Upon my arrival, the team conducted a brainstorming session (I don’t know how many sessions they had before). I politely asked if I could observe the line before joining this session.

“Oh yeah, your kind do that.” And I was allowed to observe for two hours.

When I returned, someone asked, “Did you find the “Root cause”?” So I said “No.”

There was a big laugh in the room, and I followed up.

“But I did learn that this problem doesn’t exist.”

And I showed them the repair log. Every defect was supposed to go to the repair station. The repair station keeps a log of what they repaired. The quantity recorded didn’t even reach 1%. When I observed, the repair station seemed relaxed or idle. The defects on the log had nothing to do with the defect they were brainstorming.

They kept asking me about the problem and why they lost 20% of the output. I kept responding it was time to go to the Genba.

The plant manager agreed to go to the Genba. He continued asking me about the problem, and I responded, “Keep observing.”  After thirty minutes, he murmured, “Something is wrong in this line.” After another thirty minutes, the plant manager found the root cause, and we could turn the problem on and off, which caused a 20% loss.

Then, another blame game happened. The team started blaming the production for not reporting accurately. I was upset. Yes, the production should not have been reported as defects. It was something else. However, the team and managers should have observed the Genba before anything else. They stayed in the comfortable conference room and never observed. The problem was weird. The plant manager had never seen such a problem before. Asking the production people to describe what was going on was impossible. Besides, the root cause was engineering, who were in the brainstorming sessions. I warned them we might have a nasty end if they want to continue the blame game.

Blaming doesn’t lead to Kaizen. It’s the fresh sets of questioning on the standards at the Genba that will lead to Kaizen.

Perhaps the starting point of implementing Kaizen culture is to fix these wrong perceptions about standards.

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