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Driving Continuous Improvement with 4-Blockers

Turn Unhappy Campers into Your Biggest Fans

Unhappy Campers

A long, long time ago at a company far, far away, the leadership was not happy with the performance of an expensive piece of automated equipment purchased & installed about 6 months earlier.

Their assumption was that implementing this capital project would solve the performance issues with one of their production constraints.

Unfortunately, the performance issues were not solved.

  • The process needed 75% more operators & additional overtime

  • Additional inspections were required

  • An additional programmer was needed to support the primary operator

  • Twice as much space was used for the process

  • Scrap and rework actually increased

  • Disruptions to the next process were even more frequent

To say they were “not happy” with the ROI and anticipated negative payback time would be a gross understatement.

That is when I was called in and explained to that "this project was going to succeed" and it was my responsibility to make it happen…like now!

Without any hesitation, I formed a small team of 5 people that understood the process, the inputs, and the quality requirements as well as the skills and authority to make the necessary changes. We held a weekly meeting to review the output versus our daily goal and the issues hindering additional flow. The key Continuous Improvement tool we used to communicate during this meeting is called a 4-Blocker. We used a simple Defect Log to track the daily output and defect types & locations, which was linked to the 4-Blocker graphs.

Within 2 months:

  • Throughput through the automated process doubled

  • Defects per unit reduced from 11 dpu to 0.01 dpu

  • Scrap became rare

  • Inspections were reduced

  • Headcount returned to normal (besides some periodic programming)

  • Overtime became rare

  • There was a buffer of units ready for the next operation


What is a 4-Blocker?

A 4-Blocker is a highly adaptable and effective 1-page collaboration tool that shows multiple views of a process over a given period of time.

  1. The 1st Quadrant uses a line graph with output versus time to show a history of process output relative to a target & a bar chart displays the count of issues per day. A stretch goal target line may be added 10 to 20% above the current target.

  2. The 2nd Quadrant provides a breakdown of type and location of issues in the form of a stacker bar graph arranged from high to low by occurrence. It could just as easily have been arranged by location with type stacked or with impact instead of occurrence.

  3. The 3rd Quadrant is an area filled in during a review meeting in which team members rank the issues quantified in the 2nd quadrant, then discuss and identify the most likely root causes.

  4. In the 4th Quadrant, actions that can reduce or prevent the recurrence of issues are identified and responsibilities with dates are assigned.

The actions taken should follow the PDCA model (Plan-Do-Check-Act) in which a test action is executed and then judgment made whether to adjust and test again or move on with full implementation. Lessons learned from successful actions in one area should be quickly implemented in the other target areas with appropriate modifications.

The periodic review meeting should be allowed to take 30-60min. Weekly is a good starting point. Reducing the frequency to monthly, or as needed, is recommended when the number of issues drops to a predefined level. The team members need to have the knowledge, skills, and authority to take appropriate actions related to the process with a sense of urgency.

Common Results within 60 days in the Target Area

Depending on the level of support and prioritization, the following results are not uncommon:

  • 40-60% Less Rework

  • 20-50% Less Scrap

  • 40-50% Less Overtime

  • 20-50% More Throughput

By utilizing some simple data and engaging teams Quality, Cost, and Throughput can ALL be rapidly improved.

We use a systematic approach to gain insight & understanding into organizations in order to make rapid improvements where it will have the most impact.

Our methodology is a combination of Lean Six Sigma & Theory of Constraints called TLS. TLS is like combining a grand slam and a slam dunk to create a new power move... The Grand Slam Dunk!

You can think of us as strategic problem solvers. 

We really enjoy developing and executing strategic rapid improvement plans for organizations. It is great to see bottom line results come to fruition! 

Check out our self-study eLearning course if you would like to find out how to drive Data Driven Continuous Improvement for Rapid Improvement in your organization! If you're interested in our other courses, check out our course catalog.

For More Info Contact:

O 888.489.5121

F      704.479.7206

Charlotte, NC, United States


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