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Continuous Improvement Engineer Interview
Questions

30 Questions and Answers by Ryan Brown

Question 1 of 30

How does the concept of Heijunka apply to day to day operations in a manufacturing setting?

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Continuous Improvement Engineer Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    How does the concept of Heijunka apply to day to day operations in a manufacturing setting?

      Heijunka is the concept of level-loading a process or operation. This concept is related to the aspirational goal of single piece flow in all processes. This question is meant to evaluate the candidates practical understanding of these concepts. A good answer will express the candidates understanding of these ideas as an ideal-state vision, while demonstrating their ability to work within the constraints of a real-world system to develop a practical solution.

      Ryan's Answer

      "The importance of level-loading a production area cannot be overstated. There are many benefits to reducing batch sizes and creating a routine cadence in a production schedule. As batch sizes go down and change-over frequency goes up, the inefficiencies involved with change-overs come to light. This drives a reduction in changeover time, which can subsequently lead to further decrease batch sizes. Level-loading across shifts also has the ancillary benefit of ensuring proper training for all shifts on all products. Heijunka should be pursued with the ideal vision of single-piece-flow in all processes, even though this visoon can often not be fully realized due to practical constraints."

  2. 2.

    What is your level of understanding of financial statments as they apply to operations?

      As a CI engineer, it is beneficial to have at least a working knowledge of financial statements (especially income statements - sometimes also called profit and loss statements or P&Ls). For candidates who are early in their career, it is understandable that they may have minimal expertise in this area; however, taking some time to research financial statements would be advisable. This is not a subject that is generally covered in an engineer's formal training, so this is a good opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves by demonstrating their knowledge.

      Ryan's Answer

      "While I am certainly no accountant, I do have a working knowledge of financial statements. I can read a budget or P&L and quickly identify gaps from the target. In the past, I have used P&Ls to identify high-level areas of focus for projects."

  3. 3.

    How do you handle feedback?

      This is a simple question that many candidates struggle with. Lots of candidates will respond that they take constructive feedback well. Of course, it is a hard expectation that employees will take constructive feedback well. This question is really asking: how does the candidate handle all feedback, and are they going to be dismissive of peers' and team members' feedback at lower organization levels. If negative or unconstructive feedback is offered, the interviewer will gauge how well they will handle this by seeing if they have the emotional intelligence to cipher through all feedback offered and extract the useful parts without damaging relationships.

      This is an opportunity for the candidate to differentiate themselves by demonstrating their emotional intelligence and ability to communicate with all organization levels regardless of how others communicate with them.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Of course I welcome and thrive on constructive feedback, but many times even un-constructive feedback contains important information. No matter how information is presented to me, I always try to reflect and understand how a person feels and what information they are actually conveying. If a person offers negative feedback, it is because they are frustrated or having some problem. In that case, I try to look past their tone or negativity and understand the problem that is frustrating them so I can work to offer a solution."

  4. 4.

    Why are you interested in the role of Continuous Improvement Engineer?

      This is a simple question that often leads off an interview. This is an opportunity for the candidate to sell themselves to the interviewer and give examples to differentiate themselves from other candidates. There are many ways to answer this question well, but the candidate should focus on answers that explain mutual benefit for the candidate and the company. The candidate should avoid answers which don't convey a strong interest in the position (i.e., I am just looking for a foot in the door, and I saw this position was available).

      Ryan's Answer

      "I am interested in this role because I see the opportunity to apply my training in CI methodologies to improve the bottom line for the company. I excited about the opportunity for me to hone my skills while helping the company meet and exceed it's KPIs."

  5. 5.

    How do you use Value Stream Mapping to drive improvement?

      Value Stream Maps are a useful and powerful tool that can be used to understand complex processes and organizations. However, many organizations fall short in their implementation of VSMs. Oftentimes the Value Stream Mapping activity is completed to satisfy a corporate requirement rather than drive meaningful change. This question is less about the candidate's ability to read or create a VSM and more about the candidate's ability to identify impactful improvements based on the information contained in the VSM. The candidate should focus on their practical experience and improve business results using Value Stream Mapping.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Once a current state VSM has been created, I will look for constraints and wastes that are evident in the map. Often problem areas can be identified around large inventory accumulations. Once a problem area is identified, I will work to understand what is causing the constraint and then work to implement projects to alleviate the constraint. Always I treat the VSM as a tool to drive cost reduction, rather than a paper exercise to satisfy a requirement."

  6. 6.

    How do you go about completing a time study on a process you are unfamilair with?

      Completing time studies will be a key part of almost all CI engineer's jobs. Many companies have their own requirements and methods for completing time studies. The candidate should answer this question in a way that shows their practical experience completing time studies and their understanding of the importance of the data.

      It is worth mentioning that the detail and resolution required in a given time study could greatly depend on the process being studied and the information the engineer expects to garner from the study. For example, a time study completed on an assembly line to identify bottlenecks may be completed with just a handful of elements and a few data points on each operation. In contrast, a time study that will be used to justify the reduction of a position may require numerous elements and 30 or more data points.

      When answering this question, the candidate must explain that they will become familiar with the job being studied before completing the time study.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Before completing a time study, I think about the desired outcome and establish a level of detail that will be required. Some studies may only require a resolution of minutes, while others will require a resolution of < 1 s. After I establish the detail needed, I will familiarize myself with the process being studied through observation. In some cases, I may ask the team member if I can complete the task to become more familiar with the operation. Once I understand the process, I will establish elements and begin timing. After I have collected all the necessary data, I will formalize the study in a report which can be used to identify improvements."

  7. 7.

    What is your ideal career path, how does this position fit into your long-term career aspirations?

      CI engineers can be ideal for advancement into a variety of roles. Their skillset is desirable because they are trained in methodologies to solve problems and make improvements that could be applied in many fields. The exact aspiration of the candidate is less important than the fact that they are interested in advancing and that they are thinking of how they will continue to develop. This is an ideal time for the candidate to further express the mutual benefits of this position for the candidate and the company.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I am unsure of the exact career path I desire, but I am very interested in manufacturing and look forward to advancing in this field. I feel that the position of CI engineer gives me exposure to many facets of the manufacturing industry. This position will give me the opportunity to create an immediate benefit for the company while developing my skills to move into a leadership role down the road."

  8. 8.

    Are you familiar with the 8 wastes? How do you go about reducing waste in the workplace?

      Identifying and eliminating waste is a key part of lean thinking and TPS. While the wastes can differ slightly by an organization, they are generally accepted as intellect, waiting, overproduction, rejects/defects, motion, processing, inventory, and transportation. While eliminating all waste is good, CI engineers need to eliminate waste that can create a direct cost reduction in the workplace. There are many ways to reduce waste, so there are many good ways to answer this question. This is a good time for the candidate to reiterate their ability to engage others, make improvements, and express their CI/kaizen mindset.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I am familiar with the 8 wastes; as an engineer, I am constantly looking for ways to identify and eliminate waste in all systems. While I have had success identifying and eliminating waste through studies and structured events, my best success has come from implementing employee suggestions and focusing on fixing problems brought to me by team members themselves. When eliminating wastes, I try to prioritize actions that will directly make someone's job easier or actions that will have a substantial cost impact."

  9. 9.

    What is Takt Time is, and how it should be utilized to manage a process?

      Takt time is the cadence at which a process has to operate to meet it's demand. This concept can be applied to any process that has a defined amount of deliverables over a given time. It is important that the candidate shows that they understand that the takt time of a process is driven by customer demand rather than the cycle time of the process. There are many ways to use takt time to manage a process, but at its core, the takt time should be used to dictate the staffing and hours of operation required for a given process.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Takt time is the cadence at which a process must produce to meet it's demand. To calculate takt time you divide the production time available in a day or week by the demand over the same period. Takt time is a very important piece of information required to manage any process. Once the takt time is understood, the process should be studied to identify it's cycle time based on it's current operation condition. The relationship of takt time and cycle time is used to evaluate if staffing needs to be added or removed, or if hours of operation need to change."

  10. 10.

    Making changes is a core part of a CI engineer's job function. How do you make sure that the changes you implement don't cause adverse effects on quality or other KPIs?

      CI engineers are expected to be change agents and challenge the status quo. While change is necessary for success, it can carry drastic risks if not managed properly. There are departments in most organizations whose primary function is ensuring that abnormalities are minimized (i.e., a Quality Control department). While there is some expected healthy conflict between departments who want to minimize disruptions and a CI engineer whose primary function is a disruptor, there is definitely a right and wrong way to make changes. The candidate must let the interviewer know that they will be part of the team and adhere to the organization's change management policy while carrying out their job.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Once a project is identified, I will review the associated changes with all departments who could be affected. If other departments are adamant that the proposed change carries too much risk, I will respect their opinion. If I am making the change as a direction from my management, I will escalate the concerns to my manager to assess the risk and make a final decision. I will usually be the owner of the change management process and make sure that all procedures are followed and that any appropriate documents are updated to reflect the change correctly."

  11. 11.

    Once you identify a potential project, how do you evaluate if it is a worthwhile use of resources?

      Typically any project should be justified with a financial cost to benefit analysis, however, sometimes the effect of an improvement can be difficult to measure. It is OK for some projects to be justified based improved morale or general workplace beautification. Each company will have their own requirement for an acceptable pay-back period, with many companies targeting <18 months. Usually one should be conservative in this analysis. The answer to this question should demonstrate the candidates ability to be business minded and think analytically.

      Ryan's Answer

      "After I have identified a project based on my observations or feedback from the team, I will estimate the benefits based on historical data and an estimate of the effect of the project. Once a conservative estimate of the effects are established, I will create a project cost estimate. After the costs and benefits are understood, I will make a presentation detailing the project's benefits and proposed pay-back period to present to management for approval. Occasionally, there are projects where the fincancial benefit is difficult to measure, in this case I would detail the soft benefits and include in my presentation. "

  12. 12.

    What is your biggest weakness? or, What do you think your biggest hurdle would be regarding this position?

      This is a common question. Even though candidates are told to expect this question, they often don't answer the question as best as possible. The candidate should be honest with their answer and make sure to present themselves in a desirable light. The candidate should avoid answers that would preclude them from the job or portray them negatively (i.e., I tend to procrastinate when I don't want to do something, I don't really like working with others). The candidate should also avoid an answer that seems disingenuous (i.e., I am just too much of a perfectionist, I hate being late too much). If the candidate is early in their career or coming to a new company or industry, it is acceptable to mention that they do not have a detailed knowledge of the business and processes they will be working around.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Since I am a recent graduate and this will be my first engineering job, I think my biggest weakness is my lack of experience. This is certainly something I look at overcoming in the coming months and years."

  13. 13.

    How do you handle conflict in the workplace?

      As a CI engineer, the candidate will be studying and eventually making changes to how others work. Most people are resistant to change, especially when it comes to the way they do their job. For this reason, CI engineers will inevitably experience some conflict in the workplace. To be effective, it is critical that the CI engineer can mitigate this conflict without damaging relationships or losing motivation. An effective answer should demonstrate emotional intelligence and show assertiveness without seeming overly standoffish.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Due to my position, making changes to other people's jobs, I expect that I will experience conflict in the workplace. Usually, these conflicts arise when implementing changes to the way that others are expected to do things. When someone is unhappy, I listen to their feedback and give them a chance to vent about what is bothering them. Oftentimes there is some valid feedback at the root of their complaints. After giving someone a chance to vent, I will explain my way of thinking and why we have made a change. I always make it clear that we are open to adjusting and value the feedback of each person. Usually, after working together, we can resolve the conflict and end up with a better solution. Occasionally if someone is unreasonably hostile, then I would escalate this behavior to their direct supervisor."

  14. 14.

    Why did you decide to pursue a career in engineering? More specifically, what made you interested to study Continuous Improvement?

      There are many good answers to this question. The candidate should be honest but use this to discuss personal traits that could be desirable for the employer. This is a perfect opportunity for the candidate to sell themselves.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I chose to study engineering because I have always had an analytical mindset. As a kid, I enjoyed math and science, so engineering was a natural fit. Once I began to study engineering, I was attracted to continuous improvement because it allows me to work directly with other people and see the results of my work happen very quickly."

  15. 15.

    What is the difference in a lean activity and cost reduction activity?

      This is a tricky question; many practitioners are quick to confuse lean activities with traditional cost reductions. While lean and TPS related activity must reduce costs to be effective, they are implemented differently than traditional cost reduction activities. In lean thinking, waste is always sought to be eliminated, people are always considered, and only sustainable and perene solutions would be considered.

      For example, a traditional labor cost reduction may mean that a manager decides to cut their staff by a (more-or-less) arbitrary percentage to reduce their labor spend. A labor cost reduction in a lean environment means that jobs have been studied and waste has been identified. Once the waste had been reduced or eliminated, the staffing will be reduced to match the new work content.

      To answer this question, the candidate should show that they understand that lean activities are focused on engaging team-members and reducing waste for sustainable results, rather than just cutting costs for a short-term benefit.

      Ryan's Answer

      "If properly executed, lean activities should drastically reduce operating costs for a business. However, the method by which these cost reductions are pursued is much different than a traditional cost reduction activity. In a lean activity, the team is engaged in developing solutions thateliminate waste and make the work less cumbersome. The cost reductions realized in a lean activity are an effect of the positive work which has been completed."

  16. 16.

    What does kaizen mean to you?

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  17. 17.

    Why are you interested in this industry?

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  18. 18.

    Please give an example of a large project which you have sucessfully managed.

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  19. 19.

    What are your technical abilities outside of CI (CAD, PLCs, Maintenance, etc.)?

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  20. 20.

    After you have implemented a change to a job, you have a particular team-member who refuses to adhere to the change. How do you handle this?

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  21. 21.

    How do you go about building rapport with a team that you will be working with?

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  22. 22.

    Why is standardized work important?

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  23. 23.

    Please explain the importance of a pull-system and how you may go about implementing a pull-system in a new work place.

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  24. 24.

    Why is 5S important in the workplace?

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  25. 25.

    If you identify an opportunity to reduce a position (or positions), how do you go about explaining this to the workforce?

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  26. 26.

    What is your experience leading kaizen events?

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  27. 27.

    Please explain your understanding of cause and countermeasure.

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  28. 28.

    When going to a new area, you will be faced with many problems of different types and scopes. How would you decide what to work on first?

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  29. 29.

    How do you use structured problem solving to make improvements?

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  30. 30.

    Tell me about a time when you engaged other team-members and utilized their feedback to make an improvement.

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