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This Lean blog is dedicated to providing useful Lean information that both changes the way you think about continuous improvement, and gives you tools to act on those changes. It is the only blog backed by The Continuous Improvement Companion, our extensive Lean reference guide.

A facilitator is an individual who instructs, coaches, and guides project teams towards their continuous improvement objectives.

This person may be facilitating as a secondary role or as their primary function. They may also be an employee of the company that they are coaching, or they may be an individual hired in a temporary consulting role.

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Metrics come in two basic flavors. One option is to measure the results of a process. This confirms that you did the right things and that you are on track. The problem, though, is that results metrics are lagging indicators. The activities that led to these results happened in the past, sometimes significantly long ago.

Another option is to track process metrics. Process metrics track the activities that lead to successful results metrics. These measurements tend to be taken closer to real-time, and they tend to be linked to decisions and actions. In other words, if you identify a problem with a process metric, you can do something to correct the issue immediately rather than having to wait until results are tallied down the road.

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Machines are essential to production environments.  But not all machines are created equal. The impact of breakdowns varies widely. Because resources are limited, it is important to have a strategy to manage machines according to how critical they are to the operation.

An ‘ABC Machines’ strategy is one way to organize machines to allocate resources.  While the exact name used to describe this strategy may vary by company, the purpose is the same. Companies assess their equipment and make contingency plans based on risk, the difficulty of repair, and a host of other factors. The category (A, B, or C) determines how detailed the contingency needs to be.

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An assignable cause is a type of variation in which a specific activity or event can be linked to inconsistency in a system. In effect, it is a special cause that has been identified.

As a refresher, common cause variation is the natural fluctuation within a system. It comes from the inherent randomness in the world. The impact of this form of variation can be predicted by statistical means. Special cause variation, on the other hand, falls outside of statistical expectations. They show up as outliers in the data.

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Reproducibility is the ability of a process to be duplicated by multiple people.

This concept is understood and highly valued in both the scientific method and when creating measurement systems. In fact, in gauge R&R, one of the “R’s” stands for reproducibility (the other is repeatability). We recognize that a measurement or a scientific breakthrough has limited value if it only applies to a single individual.

We don’t tend to put the same level of scrutiny on our processes, though. In many cases, each person will perform the same task in their own manner, yielding different results.

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Reliability is the ability of a process, machine, or measurement system to perform as intended over time. There is an underlying assumption that at one point, the ability to provide good results existed.

The most common cause of a drop in reliability is the degradation of equipment. As machines wear out, they become less able to provide consistent results. The curve depicting the output in question either shifts or widens, resulting in an area under the curve extending past the specification limit.

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For the purposes of continuous improvement, a product family is a group of products that follows a similar series of process steps. The value in this type of organization is that it supports flow. Similar products can be combined onto a mixed model production line. Generally speaking, the higher the pace of production, the more magnified the impact of each improvement will be.

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Baselines are essential to improvements. They are the starting point for a process to be changed, or are reference points for ongoing processes. Baselines can be used in two main ways.

First, they can be used to establish current conditions prior to a project. This is essential to knowing if the changes actually had the positive impact they were expected to.

The other common use of baselines is as a comparison point for an ongoing metric. In this application, a baseline is sometimes referred to as a jumping-off point. This type of metric is typically reset every year as a new starting point to evaluate progress on annual goals. (Note: You may also see a baseline compare a current period to an earlier period. For example, financial analysts routinely use the previous quarter and the year-ago quarter as baselines to evaluate earnings in the current period.)

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People should not be standing watching machines or pulling levers. They are far more intelligent than that. Give them jobs that use that intelligence, and sever their ties to machines. Focusing on this premise, that workers are more than just machines, shows great respect for people, one of the central tenets of continuous improvement.

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Scalability is the ability to easily ramp up or down to changing requirements. The term is in common use in information technology, specifically in reference to the ability of a system to grow to accommodate increasing traffic.

In a continuous improvement sense, it is the ability of a process to adjust to a growing demand.

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ABC inventory is a method of categorizing inventory to segment items into different inventory management processes. Typically, the segmentation is done by calculating out the annual usage of the parts, and labeling the top 70% of parts (by cost) as ‘A’ parts,  the next 25% as ‘B’ parts, and the final 5% as ‘C’ parts. On occasion, an organization may include all parts without usage over the last year as another category (i.e. ‘D’ parts). 

The power of this categorization lies in the Pareto Principle. Typically, around 15-20% of your parts will fall into the ‘A’ category. Around 30% will be in group ‘B’ with the remaining items in group ‘C’. The bottom line is that the majority of your inventory cost is contained in a relatively small quantity of part numbers. That means that you can get big gains with relatively low effort.

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About the Gotta Go Lean Blog

The Gotta Go Lean Blog focuses on Lean at the front line. We help managers and employees work together to make Lean more productive for the company, and jobs more satisfying for workers.

To help you make your continuous improvement efforts more effective, our Lean blog offers a variety of different types of articles. You may see traditional articles, Lean terminology, videos, and podcasts.

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