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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.

Common cause variation is the predictable, repetitive, systemic portion of variation. Contrast this with special cause variation, caused by unusual occurrences.

Common cause variation, in a nutshell, is the consistent randomness built into a process. It is also frequently referred to as ‘noise.’

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5W1H is shorthand for “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” It is used both in problem solving and in project planning.

This set of questions is sometimes referred to as the Kipling Method, due to a poem that appeared in Rudyard Kipling’s 1902 “Just So Stories.”

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

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The 7 Basic Tools of Quality (or 7 QC Tools) is a set of relatively simple data analysis tools used to support quality improvement efforts.

These tools are fairly simple in that they don’t require sophisticated statistics to use (though control charts border on being too complex for the typical user to develop.)

The 7 Basic Tools of Quality are:

  • Cause and Effect Diagram (Ishikawa Diagram / Fishbone Diagram)
  • Control Chart
  • Pareto Chart
  • Scatter Diagram
  • Histogram
  • Check Sheet
  • Flow Chart

Note that there is a split between flow charts and stratification for the last tool. We have included flow charts for two reasons. (1) It is more commonly used and understood that stratification. (2) Stratification is frequently used in conjunction with other tools.

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The 6 P’s are a mnemonic tool similar to the 6M’s. Both are used to categorize causes on an Ishikawa (cause & effect) diagram. The 6 M’s were traditionally used for fishbone diagrams on the shop floor or other production environments.

The 6 P’s originated when more and more companies began migrating Lean to the office. The 6 P’s are:

  • Policy
  • Process
  • People
  • Plant
  • Program
  • Product

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The 6 M’s are a mnemonic tool used primarily during the creation of a cause & effect diagram.

The 6 M’s are:

  • Machines
  • Methods
  • Materials
  • Mother Nature
  • Manpower (People Power)
  • Measurements

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The Delphi method of predicting outcomes has been around for a long while, but is not widely used in continuous improvement. It is the process of anonymously posing similar questions to many experts and using their results to further a discussion to predict a future outcome.

One such panel was formed by a television network to estimate how fast HDTV would be adopted. The panel accurately predicted delays, helping the network to postpone significant capital expense and avoid early adopter headaches.

Of note, the name “Delphi” originates from the Oracle at Delphi. In Greek mythology, this is the location in which prophecies from Apollo were handed down.

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A production buffer is a type of inventory allocated specifically as a hedge against variation. The root cause of the unpredictability may be due to the normal variation of a process, or any of a variety of types of special cause variation. The latter causes include things like supplier unreliability, machine breakdowns, and high defect rates.

The size of the buffer is related to the frequency and duration of the problems, and to the ease of replenishment.

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Automated guided vehicles (sometimes called Automatic Guided Vehicles) are driverless vehicles that primarily perform transportation functions. In most cases, they support materials groups in distribution of raw materials and in movement of finished goods. These vehicles may either operate similar to a pallet jack, and carry the load, or as a tow-truck, and pull the load. They are guided by a variety of means, including a buried wire with RF transmissions, magnetic tape, reflectors mounted throughout the facility, or even more sophisticated technologies that sense the environment or track motion. Increasingly advanced technologies are regularly added to AGVs, increasing their usefulness.

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Most processes change over time. A car will age, and as it undergoes normal wear and tear, gas mileage will worsen. It won’t be an overnight change, but it will trend downward. This is drift. Processes, with no visible changes, often slowly perform differently. A fixture may loosen up over time, making it take longer to fasten the product in place. A measuring device may be subjected to a series of small bumps over time the slowly changes its readings, making subsequent tasks take longer.

In some cases, there may be minor alterations to how processes are done over time. For example, a tool might be placed in the wrong location often enough that it inadvertently changes a process, or a vendor might change packaging slightly.

Drift should not be confused with intentional changes to a process that shift an output.

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Production processes require assets to run them. You generally have choices. You can use a big machine that costs a lot of money, but has tremendous functionality and flexibility. These machines, because of their cost, end up being used in several processes or for several products to defray the cost. This tends to disrupt flow.

The alternative is to buy or build a smaller machine that may have fewer functions. This machine is dedicated to a single process. It can then be located in a logical position to support one piece flow without causing problems for other product families. 

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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.

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