Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Do your processes “tick-off” your operators?

Process burden is much more than just ergonomic burden!

Process burden is what negatively impacts main performance metrics such as safety, quality, productivity and cost because process burdens frustrate, distract, and exhaust the operators!

Process burdens are definitely part of the 8 wastes (TIM WOODS) but often leaders miss seeing them or realizing the impact they have on the operators and subsequently the metrics.  Process burden can mean many things.  Ergonomic burden is an obvious one, but walking, twisting, bending, steps, stepping up/down or stretching are all additional movement burdens to look out for.   A form of process burden often overlooked is mental and emotional burden.  This is where the metric impact comes from!

Mental burden comes from the number of decisions, complex or otherwise, an operator has to make.  For example, if this model number, do this.  If that model number, do that.  These decisions may involve installing different part options of colours or styles, affixing a label or not,  or choosing what part, tape, box, or component to use.  The more decisions the more likelihood mistakes will be made and the more drained the operator will become throughout their shift.

Emotional burden comes from frustrations experienced while the operator is trying to do their job.  Running out of parts, components or packaging sticking to their gloves, dispensed indirect supplies jamming up or running out, waiting for assistance, tools or equipment that don’t operate smoothly, etc.  Typically leaders don’t see these type of burdens until they start to impact productivity in a significant way.  However, long before this, and often without the operator fully realizing, they are getting frustrated, aggravated, and emotionally drained.

You need to observe the process before, during, and after kaizens for an extended period of time to watch for and identify these burdens.  For example, during a kaizen of a process a team added a long handled paint roller to assist the operator with pulling forward some parts to reduce the operator’s reach.  The roller worked really well for the intended purpose.  The team moved on to other things after this kaizen.  Observing the process after the kaizen for a longer period of time and looking for burdens, one couldn’t help but see that when the operator went to use the roller they struggled getting it off the magnetic hook used to hold it when not in use.  I mean you had to use brute force to get this roller released from the magnet.  It was incredibly difficult.  Although the operator didn’t use it often, when they did it just frustrated them to no end!

It’s not hard then to understand how these process burdens can impact the operators and then lead to negative impact on safety, quality, productivity and cost.

So how do you find these burdens?

  1. Ask the operators what frustrates, tires them out or what’s the number one thing they would change in their process.
  2. Observe and watch many cycles (>30 minutes, the longer the better) focused on these types of burdens and monitor how often they occur.  Watch for > 30 minutes to increase the opportunity to observe abnormalities that happen periodically.

Make it visible!

When conducting a kaizen on a process, put a flip chart close to the process and ask the operators to write down anything they have concerns with in the process.  Explain what process burdens are and why you want to know about them, and of course, commit to fixing as many as you can.  As you do fix the burdens the operators identified, cross them off on the flip chart.  This type of visibility engages the operators and provides two-way feedback as to the concerns and as to what has been addressed.  It also spurs on more ideas and opportunities as other operators see that the issues are in fact being fixed or eliminated.

Create and visualize for operators to see a “What’s in it for me” metrics board.  Often, as leaders we show the improvement in the hardcore metrics which may not have as much meaning to the operators.  For example, based on a kaizen, we have reduced 12 seconds of waste, resulting in a 7.5% improvement in productivity.  What the operator may hear is, “great we have to work harder, faster”, etc.  So although these metric improvements are important to track, don’t forget to also track and visualize the improvements that the operators will feel themselves such as, reduction in steps/day, number of decisions reduced, twists eliminated etc.  Show both the before and after metrics.  They don’t have to be fancy and can be on a flip chart, white board, or a piece of paper at the process.

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