Problem solving with Lean Green Belt training

By C.A. Lawton | August 14, 2019

As we have discussed in previous articles, Lean is all about eliminating eight kinds of waste, called TIMWOODS in Lean terminology. Green Belt training gives employees of The C.A. Lawton Co. an opportunity to further develop the company’s Lean culture, strengthen teamwork and leadership skills and learn about Lean tools that can help them eliminate waste.

The training lasts four full days and begins with the history of Lean. That’s followed by a discussion about company culture. For a company to be successful in implementing Lean, it must first adopt a Lean culture, embodied by a set of shared attitudes, values and goals. Lean culture starts with a commitment from leadership and management. It’s their responsibility to facilitate the flow of Lean throughout the organization. This is done by managing the Toyota way: managing as one, and assimilating and standardizing management strategy.  

The most important part of leadership’s role is placing an emphasis on teamwork and directing their teams. This is done through creating a sense of urgency, guiding teams’ focus through communication and by creating an action-oriented culture. Leaders should focus their communication on topics like current status, goals, strategy and direction, as well as actions and timing to maintain their teams’ focus on what’s most important.

The role of the employees is to demonstrate “loyalty up and down” by supporting leadership goals (loyalty up) and to lead and empower team members who report to them (loyalty down). This approach helps to reinforce a team-oriented environment. All of these concepts are integral to the growth of a Lean culture, which is the foundation of a successful application of Lean. That makes it a key part of the Green Belt training process.

The next phase of Green Belt training introduces Lean thinking. Lean-thinking organizations place a lot of emphasis on teamwork. To demonstrate why, participants engage in an activity in which they are asked to take a quiz alone. They then take the same quiz with a team. The combined knowledge and effort of multiple people yields quicker results and higher scores the second time around, demonstrating the value of effective teamwork.  

Lean thinking also requires a clear understanding of processes and expectations. Every process should include standard methods, formats and information. Standardization is another cornerstone of Lean. By standardizing operations, efficiency is improved, which means waste is minimized. The goal is to maximize your outcome with limited resources – only the resources you need, with no waste.

A key principle of Lean is that simple is better. Choose the simplest flow and method for every situation. Get out of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. However, make sure you are using Lean to expose problems, not to create them.

Within this part of Green Belt training, employees also learn the true meaning of Lean and waste. Anything the customer pays for within a process is a value-added component. Although the remaining parts of the process are considered non-value-added components, some are still necessary to complete the process, but others are not. The components that can be identified as non-value-added and unnecessary are waste. Lean is used to eliminate it.

Ultimately, the sale price of your product or service is determined by the customer. That’s why it’s critical to remove any unnecessary components that the customer doesn’t pay for – it helps to improve profit. The bottom line is that removing waste decreases cost.

Another key aspect of Lean Green Belt training is problem solving. The first part of training on this topic is focused on problem consciousness, which is having the awareness and ability to determine what a problem is.

Once a problem is apparent, the next key step is determining its root cause. In order to do this, teams use various Lean tools to perform a Root Cause Analysis (RCA). In RCA, you examine factors surrounding a problem to identify its root cause. You know when you’ve found it when eliminating that factor directly prevents the undesirable result from occurring. Examples of RCA tools include Pareto charts, the Five Why’s, cause/effect diagrams (which include fishbone diagrams), and a Total Productive Maintenance Kaizen.

After this discussion, A3 thinking is introduced. An A3 is a diagram that is divided into nine boxes. Each one represents a step in the solution process. It’s a focused, standardized and concise method of thinking about and communicating a solution in an easy-to-understand visual format. It was popularized by Toyota, which frequently used the A3 process to solve production problems.

The elements of an A3 include background information about the problem, standards, its importance, the current status of the situation, your root cause analysis (in which you use one of the tools discussed above), your goals, targets and metrics, your plan, and several other steps. Box four is always the root cause corrective action piece.

The last box includes your insights and learnings. During this phase, teams analyze what they learned and examine whether or not it can be applied in other areas. One example of a transferrable solution at Lawton was putting magnets in the cores so when you put the chills in they are held in place and don’t droop down. An A3 analysis is very data driven, and it enables employees to tackle systemic issues. 

Teams that are using this training to work on projects are made up of people from different departments. When individuals with different areas of expertise come together, they have a larger pool of knowledge and perspectives at their disposal, which enables more effective problem-solving.

For example, one recent team was composed of three diverse individuals: Bret, who is the north end foundry coach, Niki, who is Lawton’s new shipping coordinator and Lori, who is the human resources manager. Their focus has been on implementing the use of bags instead of rust inhibitor for parts being made for a Lawton customer. This team is about to complete its A3 project. They are currently working on the final box of the A3 process, the insights and learnings piece.

The final portion of the training focuses on the steps a company must take to successfully execute a Lean transformation. The transformation framework has three phases: understand, stabilize and continuously improve. To transform, an organization must:

  • Understand how your leaders must think, what your customers value, where you are currently, and where you want to be.
  • Stabilize operations by minimizing variation, measure and review performance and to attract, develop and retain the right people.
  • Continuously improve your value proposition to your customers by improving people and processes.

Without a firm focus in all of these areas, and without moving through each phase of this framework, many businesses fail on their Lean journey. That’s why Lawton places so much emphasis on employees participating in Green Belt training and promptly using what they’ve learned on projects to improve the company.Although it takes a major time commitment, there is always time to continuously improve our operations for the benefit of our customers, our employees and the company.