Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Top 12 FAQ about My CI

Although the concept of My CI is quite simple and straightforward, it is similar to many of the other elements of a lean way where the concept is easy to understand but the execution is a bit more difficult. As we began the My CI implementation, there were several challenges that we had to work through and questions to be answered. Here are some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that may help you if you plan on starting on program like this one.

1. Who is involved in My CI?
Everyone is involved and encouraged to participate from CEO to temporary employees. We stress leading by example.
2. How do you announce the start?
After a few planning sessions, we conducted organizational wide training sessions to make sure every employee understood the need for this program, how it is different from a traditional suggestion program and how the process works. During this ½ hour training session, we officially announced the start of the program.
3. Is training really needed?
Yes. By investing the time, energy and dollars in these training sessions, we insure everyone gets the same information about My CI. It also sends a strong message that we believe this program is important enough to shut down production or use overtime for training.
4. When do you conduct the training?
We worked with the management at each site to plan the best way to get all the associates on all shifts through the training in a 1-2 day time period. Some sites required we train on overtime while others made time during normal working hours.
5. Who decides if the idea will be implemented?
We encourage the associate and their direct supervisor (team leader) to try the idea out first and determine if the idea works. Our My CI process is geared toward getting all the ideas implemented and keeping decisions at the lowest levels. The key is working with the team leaders on coaching skills to support the process.
6. Is it difficult to decide?
This has not been a problem when using the lean principles as a guide.
7. What if an idea fails?
In the words of my Japanese sensei to me when faced with a failure, “Please try again”.
8. How do you handle the implementation of the approved ideas?
We encourage ideas that can be implemented by the associates themselves. Sometimes we get ideas requiring some outside support from management, maintenance, tooling or even a supplier which turned out for us to be about 50% of the time. These ideas took a little longer to implement and we provided the support.
9. Do you have a designated maintenance team?
No. We use our regularly staffed maintenance team for support. We have learned from other companies that they have successfully formed designated kaizen support teams from hourly associates freed up from kaizen activities to help implement kaizen ideas. It sounds like a great idea that we may try out.
10. Do you post pictures of the implemented items for everyone to see?
Absolutely! A major component of My CI is employee recognition and sharing ideas that’s why we created our My CI Kaizen Wall of Fame in the plant where everyone can easily see all the ideas. At one plant, we hold a lunch meeting every Friday with the entire plant staff showing off the ideas from their area that week. We also added the ideas to our communication monitors throughout the plant and post them on our company wide intranet site.
11. Do you provide any incentives or rewards for the ideas?
We do not provide any special rewards or money for each idea, only recognition by posting the associates picture with their idea on our Kaizen Wall of Fame and public/peer recognition. We also encourage ideas that make their jobs easier and better which reaps benefits everyday. But this does not mean you could not add an additional incentives if that works in your company to increase participation.
12. Do you track the savings generated by the ideas?
No, we only track the participation level on a weekly basis. This metric is one way to reflect our company morale. We believe if we added the burden of tracking savings that we would create disagreement on how the savings are to be measured. The other reason is that putting a dollar figure to each idea might inhibit people from generating ideas because their idea did not save a lot of money compared to other ideas. Creating an environment to generate lots of ideas by everyone is more important than waiting to implement only “homerun” ideas.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Within the first few months at Batesville Casket, I quickly noticed a significant weakness in our lean approach. This weakness is very common among companies that try to follow the lean path of continuous improvement. It’s the lack of total employee involvement and I’ll stress the TOTAL part.

That is not to say there is not employee involvement in our lean approach. Over the course of our long, lean journey to date, we have had some great success in involving many different employees in making improvements, especially on kaizen events. However, most of the involvement was from management. In addition to a lopsided management participation level, we have not pushed ourselves much beyond the manufacturing walls.

The good news is that we recognize this gap in our lean approach, laid out some countermeasures and started actively changing our ways. The most significant countermeasure we have launched is our “My CI” initiative.

From my lean manufacturing study tour in Japan courtesy of the fantastic JKE hosted by Gemba Research, I have learned how many Japanese companies promote, cultivate and embrace the simple kaizen approach implemented by all associates. The cornerstone of Toyota success is their improvement and suggestion system by all team members. This process is described in outstanding detail in the exceptional book “The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen” by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek. With these examples as a model, we have developed our own employee motivation and suggestion program called “My CI” which is short for My Continuous Improvement.

Basically, we have set up a process for employees to implement improvements or simple kaizen which are just simple ideas to make their jobs easier and better. These ideas are described as common and ordinary ideas that are within our control to implement in just a short time (like today). Everything is included from safety, quality and productivity improvements. If the idea can save one cent or one second, that is good enough.

As I described over a year ago about this system and creating a Kaizen Wall of Fame, we have now created our own Batesville Casket Company Kaizen Wall of Fame as seen in the picture above. So far, three of our five plants have started the process. Since our company is spread out across the globe and we believe each of our ideas should be celebrated and shared, we have added a virtual Kaizen Wall of Fame on our intranet site to allow associate access to any idea generated in addition to seeing the ideas posted up on the actual wall at each of our sites.

Our goal is to reach a level of total employee participation across the entire corporation (manufacturing, corporate office, logistics, distribution and even sales) where each employee contributes 2 ideas per month. It is a lofty goal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back to Blogging

As you may have noticed, my posts over the last 20 days have been as non-existent as a passionate Hillary supporter at an Obama fundraiser in June. Occasionally I have periods like this when my kaizen travel calendar gets full and I fail to make the time to post. I had every intention of posting after the kaizen events in the evenings but the kaizen events are so intensive, so demanding and so time consuming that I have little time or energy left late at night. Over the past several weeks, we have completed three great kaizen events in three different plants, trained hundreds of our associates on our “My CI” program in two plants (more on that in upcoming posts), and I even took some time off to take my family on vacation to Washington, DC, and coastal Virginia. My kids (age 7 and 11) got to experience a bit of American history in DC but we did not restrict all our vacation time just on museums and monuments. We certainly took time for some outdoor adventure by hiking at Great Falls National Park, exploring Chincoteague Island to see the wild ponies and kayaking in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It was their first kayak experience and they loved it. I loved it, too! Even though I love kaizen activities, we must never forget how important it is to spend time with our families. Just a note, the video clip is from beautiful Great Falls and not on our kayak adventure. Good thing, huh?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

We the People

The preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America begins with one of the most powerful principles of our country, We the People.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In reflection this Independence Day, our country was founded on extremely high principles and values. Our founding fathers envisioned a country that could rise higher in its purpose, standing for truth, justice, freedom, democracy, equality and tolerance. We proclaimed our lofting ideas in the Declaration of Independence for the world to see - that every person enjoys a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Over the course of our nation’s history, we have found that our noble ideas are simple in word but hard to live up to. We have not always acted in a way that is described in our own inspired words. The journey is difficult by we keep trying as a nation to follow this path.

Our lean journey is not unlike our nation’s journey. The high principles of the lean philosophy, like respect for people, are easier said than done. Respect for people is about treating others as we wish to be treated. Respect for people is focused on total employee involvement, team work, inclusion in meeting a higher purpose.

We the people and respect for people appears to go hand in hand. When we refer to our nation, we mean all our citizens, just like when we refer to our company, we mean every employee. Our employees are the company.

Sometimes we forget this and think of employees no different as our machines, to be used or discarded as needed all in the name of profit. Profit in itself is not evil however greed and power can blind us from our principles and values.

As we return back to work, take a moment to reflect on our nations founding ideas and be thankful for our freedoms. For those of us on our lean journey, look to our lean principles and ask ourselves how we can better live up to them. Most importantly, do we say we believe in respect for people but fall short in our daily actions and decisions? How much better could we build our company and our nation if we could improve our actions in line with our inspired ideas and principles? It all begins with “We the People.”