How Do You Measure Waste as You Pivoted From a Well-built Process to a New Process?

In this series, Jeff Kaas explains what the Kaas Tailored team has learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE during the COVID-19 global pandemic. In our first episode, we explain why Kaas Tailored started making PPE. Today, Jeff talks about how Kaas Tailored pivoted from a well-built process to a new one.

How do we measure waste as we go from a system that was working to a totally new system? The waste is actually the same. Overproduction, transportation, motion, waiting, processing, inventory, and defects are the same 7 wastes. Thankfully, those are universal. Our friends who are in healthcare have the same waste. Our friends who do design for Nordstrom have the same waste. The good news is that once you understand that waste is present and is the enemy of value, then wherever you go, you will start to see it everywhere.

As we went to adopt the new product lines to make PPE, we reverted to some of our old bad habits. There’s a proverb that says: a dog goes to vomit as fools go to folly. And that is what we did. We had a bunch of batch, and we didn’t use our visual management. All the tools we use to remove waste were forgotten for a few days. 

It became really acute when I got a call from my wife. If you have ever been on a Kaas Waste Tour, I tell stories about trying to “fix” my wife, and you know that never goes very well. Those are actually way worse in real life. The stories that I’ve given you have been edited to protect the innocent and the guilty. This is a call I got from her: “What the hell is going on in production? Where is the visual management? Why is there batching? Don’t you believe in this stuff? What’s going on?”

It took my wife calling me to say what was going on. Then, when I walked into the factory, I thought, “Oh my gosh. What is wrong with us?” It wasn’t hard to see the waste. It was hard to recognize that when we set up the new system, but we needed to set things up to make sure that we didn’t have waste.

Another way of looking at it is we didn’t take the time to do the interactions correctly to make sure that we did what we say we believe. It was actually a really uncomfortable time for everybody. Ultimately, I am really thankful to say the learning curve usually is around building a product.

In this case, the learning curve was all about asking ourselves how to set up a production line that is in line with what we say we believe. Is it really true that you get 30% more joy, 30% higher quality, 30% faster, all the things we say, by taking the time to set up the line to reduce waste? The truth was it was way better, and we have math now that shows us that. The blessing of all this is that because we were innovating and adding new products basically every day, we had to retest, retest, and retest. 

The measures are the same; you have standard work, content, sequence, timing, and outcomes. Standard work always has the same thing. We found out that not only were we not measuring how long it should take to make a mask, but we also were not measuring how long it takes to do order entry. By not giving feedback to my team, I was allowing them to work without letting them know how they were performing. What that meant in our organization is some people were outperforming and going crazy.

For example, I watched this woman putting on these straps every seven seconds. She was going insanely fast, and it looked like music. There was no strain. It looked like the most beautiful dance ever. Then there was a person in another line, who was taking 21 seconds. How could we allow somebody to work in a factory dancing, making music, and at the same time allow somebody to struggle to get something done every 21 seconds?

The measures need to be the same. What we are actually looking at now is, for all places where value is added, how do we set up a flow line for that? How do we set up a flow line for information flow? How do we set up a flow line to create a new line? How do we use these concepts for everything? It made us very aware that it is actually a blessing to give somebody standard work, so they know where they stand. Then they know when there is a problem. Then they can improve.

I’m 53 years old; I won’t forget this lesson. There was so much pain every day because lives were on the line. We believe that we were protecting doctors and nurses and that everything we did not deliver meant a doctor or a nurse was not getting PPE. That was an extra weight that I carried, and it wasn’t fair to my team that I threw tantrums about it.  But I really felt the weight of protecting the people we care about. It was really hard.

In March of 2020, Providence Health and Services started the 100 Million Mask Challenge. The hope was to reach out to the local community to help create much-needed PPE due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Within a few days, Providence and Kaas Tailored formed a partnership to rapidly produce face shields and face masks for caregivers. As the new normal settled in, we realized how much we missed hosting guests in our factory and leading Waste Tours. We hosted a Zoom Call in early June and asked participants to send in their questions about waste and continuous improvement so that we could share what we have learned about continuous improvement as we transitioned from making furniture to making PPE. Stay tuned for the rest of the series.