Building a Productivity Machine

Home   /   Building a Productivity Machine

Building a Productivity Machine

Building a productivity machine and improving cycle time isn’t difficult, but it does take time, energy and collaboration from the entire enterprise. Everyone within the organization needs to be fully engaged and in agreement. This starts in the boardroom and flows down through all People, Processes and Tools.

Assembling the Team

When building a Cycle Time Team, your best athletes must be on the field and enthusiastic. This should not be an assignment of dread: rather, it should be viewed as an opportunity to help build the company into a healthier and stronger business.

The CEO is unquestionably the spiritual team leader, but they also have very real obligations to investors, shareholders, customers and the community that pull on their time. This means that the team needs a strong person granted authority to wander through every nook and cranny of the company. This is typically the senior finance leader. They have the power and knowledge, as well as the ability to draw on the necessary financials to develop baselines and execute a scorecard for the process.

A cross-functional team of experts needs to be organized to examine customer care (or order management), sourcing, manufacturing and logistics. Health care, nutritional, or pharmaceutical industries will also want to include product quality as a key team member.

The Cycle Time Team needs to be small and agile, with the ability to move quickly through divisions, processes and geography so that the bureaucracy has difficulty keeping up with their activities and progress. Assignments given to each function need to be completed on time, with any blockage—be it employee, supplier or constraint—identified and positively resolved. No victims are allowed— instead, celebrating success and having fun should be a constant. It is inspiring to watch the progress and see the results in the monthly financials.

Problem Solving Methodology

Having been taught by one of Dr. Deming’s students in college, I always go back to my roots, continually reacquainting myself with his teachings. I take a step back and fully engage in embracing the Deming Wheel, or PDCA process. While this doesn’t make the problems go away, it provides me with a better focus on how to solve them.

Deming Wheel


  • Define the scope, which includes the vision and case for change
  • Prepare a baseline, including a gap analysis and initial timeline
  • Insure leadership support for project
  • Align metrics, rewards, and recognition


  • Lead a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) exercise for the entire process, end-to-end
  • Launch improvement
  • Drive standardized work with accountability
  • Implement a management review process


  • Assess for results
  • Refresh baseline


  • Develop corrective actions to address gaps

As Dr. Deming taught us, waste needs to be removed from every activity or task by grasping how the core processes function. Other instructions included:

  • Remove barriers that make it impossible for the hourly worker to do his job
  • Leaders must know the process they supervise
  • Process, Process, Process
  • Supervision on a plant floor is not an entry-level position
  • Barriers must be broken down, with fear driven from the business

After moving to Toyota, I became fully immersed in the art of problem solving. The recipe I developed was to:

  • Develop a standard approach, but adapt and implement for each line of business
  • Understand and analyze all of the components of a problem
  • Pursue improvements based on effort and impact
  • Link improvements to performance
  • Perform continuous improvement

Problem Solving Tools

There are seven basic tools used for problem solving. They are:

  • Cause & Effect Diagram – fishbone chart
  • Flow Chart or Process Flow Diagram
  • Pareto Charts
  • Run Charts
  • Histograms
  • Scatter Diagrams
  • Control Charts

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is an excellent method that is used to understand the physical and communication flows in a supply chain. It is a simple linear process combined with volumes and resources required to produce a product. Areas to be studied and understood are:

  • Timing of information flows
  • Supplier lead times
  • Supplier cost structures – cost vs. time and inventory
  • Manufacturing set-up and execution times
  • Choice and cost of logistics mode selection

Determining where a process starts and where it stops is critical to building a proper Value Stream Map. Once identified, improvements for each of these areas can be translated into action plans. A completed Value Stream Map tells the story of a series of activities, identifies waste and opportunities to improve the end-to-end process. From here, the business can determine its best path forward for making improvements.

Additional points to keep in mind are:

  • Safety and quality are always preconditions
  • Kaizen (or improvement) only comes from necessity
  • The ideal condition is always pursued
  • Genchi Genbetsu, Gemba or Go and See for yourself
  • Find the root cause by using the 5 Whys
  • Concept follows actions
  • Kaizen requires speed rather than perfection
  • Do work Kaizen rather than machine Kaizen

Seeing a problem firsthand allows the team to identify situations requiring improvement and to create a statement that describes the Who, What, When, Where and Why of the problem. From there, a team is gathered to:

  • Analyze and brainstorm the potential cause of the problem
  • Shape the potential cause by developing a Fishbone diagram
  • Select the most likely cause of the problem
  • Collect data and use Pareto charts to determine the cause
  • Use the 5 Whys to find the root cause of the problem
  • Develop corrective action for each root cause

With this grounding, problem solving becomes almost like a game. I love to be assigned an unworkable task so I can use these tools to solve the conundrum. From here, I was once able to further evolve these lessons into Building a Productivity Machine that produced over $22M per year in savings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *