Lean Manufacturing

What to Do When Your Lean Implementation is Like a Chicken

By Jon Miller Updated on January 5th, 2020

Premanath asked:

What is skill matrix and before starting skill matrix what should be known?

Nice two-part question. The first part is relatively easy and has little to do with chickens. The skill matrix is a document that displays the names of people down the left side or Y axis and the skills of people typically across the top X axis. Each cell within the matrix contains a circle divided into 4 parts indicating differing levels of mastery of the skill or task. The skill matrix is used to visualize the level of cross training and workforce flexibility that has been achieved, as well as any gaps. This is useful because it allows people to develop their own skills, fill in for each other, and shift people to where there is a higher workload at any given time.

The image below is a simplified example.

What should be known before getting started with the skill matrix? This is not a simple question, and is somewhat context-dependent. In general we can say the following are true:

1. A basic level of 5S discipline is required. At the very least the organization must have the ability to maintain and use visuals that are posted.

2. Fundamental front-line supervision skills (and supervisors or team leaders who possess them) must be in place to support cross training. The TWI (Training Within Industry) model is preferred, and failing that at least the JI or job instruction module is needed, with the ability to perform job breakdown prior to designing training.

3. Standard work for repetitive operations or at least work instructions with credible standard times are needed to conduct cross-training objectively and effectively.

4. A compensation plan that is linked with employee development is needed. At the very least there should be a de-coupling of pay with direct output such as piece work, which too often does not lend itself to teamwork or promote the need for flow and cross training.

5. A clear purpose for using the skill matrix, linked to business objectives and the implementation of operational excellence systems. Like any tool, the skill matrix does not exist or provide much benefit when deployed in isolation or without consideration of the total organizational ecosystem.

It must be known whether these things are in place before safely starting to use the skill matrix. Of course we cannot always wait until conditions are perfect to start improving, so what must be known is ultimately the level of readiness and the level of risk associated any gaps in readiness.

But how can a lean implementation be like a chicken? I hear you ask. We could say that chickens are skittish, and easily scared away, as the expression “chicken!” implies. Or we can say that roosters are territorial and prone to peck at the heads of other chickens in certain conditions. But we are not going there today. To answer how lean implementations are like chickens, we need to understand how chickens sustain themselves. There are three key elements to understanding chicken sustenance:

1. Chickens have no teeth. Consequently, they cannot chew their food and break it down into easily digestible pieces. Is your lean implementation lacking teeth, or the ability to break big goals down into small, meaningful actions?

2. They stuff food down their throats. The chicken gizzard is a tube of muscle that moves the food to their stomachs, unchewed by teeth. Is your lean implementation being stuffed down your figurative throats?

3. Grit. Lacking teeth, chickens must eat small bits of rocks and sand, a.k.a grit, to break up their food. Does your lean implementation have grit? I don’t mean the rocky kind, but the kind that keeps you from giving up.

When embarking on any journey on a journey the answer we must know is to the most important question, “Do we have the organizational fortitude to persist in the face of failure?” So when asking, “Are we ready to get started with…” any improvement tool or program, consider how much like a chicken your organization may be. And put some grit in your organizational gizzard. Otherwise you may just lay an egg.

  1. Andy Wagner

    April 26, 2010 - 10:22 am

    What an amazing coincidence! I planned on looking for the Skills Matrix Symbol font today to touch up a matrix we had started a few months ago!

  2. Tim McMahon

    April 26, 2010 - 11:08 am

    Jon, nice post. I had never heard the chicken analogy to lean implementation. That is a good one. I must steal that one shamelessly if you don’t mind.

  3. Jon Miller

    April 26, 2010 - 11:44 am

    You can’t steal it Tim. It’s given freely.

  4. Luciano Rosso

    April 26, 2010 - 8:18 pm

    Hi! I’m from Argentina. I work in a farmaceutical company that is getting started with lean manufacturing implementation. One of the actions that are taking place is the measurement of OEE for the equipments of the liquid manufacturing plant. The major problem that we (particulary me, in this case) are having, is the ability to convince employees within the plant to fill the charts with the corresponding daily process data necessary to calculate and study the index. They are just “too busy” with their work to lose time filling in “useless papers”.
    The problem is that I can’t blame them. I feel that we are just missing the point in something. Are we giving the right initial steps?
    Thank you very much, great blog.

  5. Eppo Kuipers

    April 27, 2010 - 3:18 am

    Hello, nice post. I would like to add a comment based on my experiences implementing the skill matrix. Be sure to have strong commitment on the definitions of each skill level and your target condition. Keep in mind that level 4 (all parts filled) will be the level that feels as the target condition for people, but sometimes it is a waste of time to strive for all employees to be in level 4. Think of the 1:3 and 3:1 rule. 1 Person can fullfill 3 tasks and for each task, 3 persones are available. I hope my comments will help you.
    With regards,
    Eppo Kuipers

  6. Mark Graf

    April 30, 2010 - 7:07 am

    In regards to Luciano’s post,
    Ask yourself what is the purpose of filling the charts out? If it is just to gather data, then that is not enough. Gathering data without action is wasteful. The reason to gather the data is to verify the process is performing as expected and also to bring problems to the surface so they can be solved. You need to ensure that there is a process/system built around solving the issues that these recordings bring to the surface. All too often people put in check sheets, charts and the like and they just become wallpaper. It looks pretty the day it is there, but quickly becomes dated, dingy and covered in dust. That is why your operators are skeptical because more than likely they have seen this before. You must ensure that there is a robust process/check system to address the problems when your process is out of control or not to standard. Operators will not believe in doing the checks until they see action as a result. Have you thought about asking the operators what problems they have seen? Also, OEE is a top level measurement and you will need a deeper dive to get into what problems to address. Just my thoughts.

  7. sharma

    May 11, 2010 - 2:07 am

    Dear Jon,
    As always … a great post. What I understand from your chicken analogy is that the chicken breaks down huge batch sizes into a one-piece-flow! lol.

  8. Joseph

    May 19, 2010 - 1:38 pm

    Operators are the same all over the world. Of course it is difficult getting them to do exrta work. If you give them an option not to do something then what do you expect. Its like asking Turkeys to vote for TWO Christmas’s a year. You have no chance.
    Establish what their current work load is YOURSELF even if it is over the top.( This is your Current State Map ). Then do the 7 Wastes on their jobs to remove enough waste to give them enough time to do the OEE data. Write a (Work Element Sheet) for the OEE Data collection operation with the time it takes to do it and allocate it to them. ( This is called the Future State Map ). If you did the waste removal correctly then they will have to say yes to doing it or stand around doing nothing during the slack time that you have created.
    Give a copy of the WES to their supervisor and tell him that if he does not get them to do it then he must do it because that is what he is paid for. Tell your manager and his manager what you have done. I think you should find that you get enough DATA to keep you busy for some time.
    If you do not use this Data to correct the causes of the low OEE then you are no better than the operator. When he refused to do the work in the first place and every one will know it.
    If they refused to do a job for me I would remove enough waste to remove one or more operators and then let them know that it does not pay to cross me.
    I would never allow an operator to have an over the top amount of work. It is not good for quality, safety, morale, etc. A fair days work for a fair days pay. People are not horses to be whipped to the finish line.
    If you are working in a place that abuses people then I am sorry for helping you give an over worked man more work.
    Plan “B” if they are low doaded operator but taking you for a ride by refusing. Buy them Cakes and Coffee. Let them sit down and spend 20 minutes drinking and eating. If production is not lost due to this. After 5 days stop the Coffee & Cakes and tell them to spend the 20 minute each day doing the OEE.
    If they are cleaver that you they will win. If you are cleaver than them then you will win. The bell has gone for the end of round one there are another 9 rounds left for you to win the the fight.
    Stay on your feet the is money in the game.
    I can not get my wife to dig the back garden she keeps giving me the spade. Am I doing something wrong ???
    Have a nice day.

  9. Joseph

    May 19, 2010 - 2:48 pm

    Jon. Great post.
    I know the Chicken that you are talking about. When I am explaining to people the difference between getting people involved and getting them committed to a Lean Launch. I tell them that if you want Bacon & Eggs for breakfast that the Hen is involved in you getting the breakfast but the Pig has to be committed to you having the Breakfast. What we want is commitment.
    You can always have one piece flow. Set the Pace Maker Process to run at a Cycle Time set to let you meet your Takt time. Run all of the other operations at their faster speed. Hence one piece flow can be achieved. To use the slack that this gives you on the other processes you can install a washing machines on each process & get the company to take in washing.
    The whole plant is now producing widgets at the Takt time ( One piece flow is a reality ) the operators are fully employed on widgets and washing. They are all gainfully employed. Now you can start working on other good things.
    Henry Ford once said “If there is something in life that you want that you do not have it is because you thought that the price was to high.”
    100 % One Piece Flow may come in that list.
    Have a nice day.

  10. pradeep

    May 31, 2010 - 1:50 am

    How to use skill matrix to evaluate flexibility index

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