For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.
The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered. How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.
I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner. I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.
The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable. Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.
We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide. As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward. We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.
Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality. Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.
Visual Management is certainly one of the characteristic traits that sets lean organizations apart from all others. The success of Visual Management is predicated on relevant and current data. To be effective, Visual Management must be embraced and utilized by leadership, management, and employees throughout the organization.
I also believe that “Knowledge is Power and Wisdom is Sharing it.” For this reason I highly respect those who are bold enough to put their thoughts in writing for the rest of the world to see. Daniel T. Jones, author of a number of books on lean (Lean Thinking) and Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy, is one of those people.
A few days ago, I received this e-mail from Daniel where he presents his thoughts on managing visually.
Learning to See is the starting point for Learning to Act. By making the facts of any situation clearly visible it is much easier to build agreement on what needs to be done, to create the commitment to doing it and to maintain the focus on sustaining it over time.
However what makes visualisation really powerful is that it changes behaviour and significantly improves the effectiveness of working together to make things happen. It changes the perspective from silo thinking and blaming others to focusing on the problem or process and it generates a much higher level of engagement and team-working. This can be seen at many levels on the lean journey. Here is my list, but I am sure you can think of many more.
Standardized work defined by the team as the best way of performing a task makes the work visible, makes the need for training to achieve it visible and establishes a baseline for improvement. Likewise standardized management makes regular visits to the shop floor visible to audit procedures, to review progress and to take away issues to be resolved at a higher level.
Process Control Boards recording the planned actions and what is actually being achieved on a frequent cadence make deviations from the plan visible, so teams can respond quickly to get back on plan and record what problems are occurring and why for later analysis.
Value Stream Mapsmake the end-to-end process visible so everyone understands the implications of what they do for the rest of the value creation process and so improvement efforts can be focused on making the value stream flow in a levelled fashion in line with demand.
Control Rooms or Hubs bringing together information from dispersed Progress Control Boards makes the synchronisation of activities visible along the value stream, defines the rate of demand for supporting value streams, triggers the need to escalate issues and to analyse the root causes of persistent problems.
A3 Reportsmake the thought process visible from the dialogue between senior managers and the author or team, whether they are solving problems, making a proposal or developing and reviewing a plan of action.
Strategy Deploymentmakes the choices visible in prioritising activities, deselecting others and conducting the catch-ball dialogue to turn high level goals into actions further down the organisation.
Finally the Oobeya Room (Japanese for “big room”) makes working together visiblein a project environment. So far it has been used for managing new product development and engineering projects. However organisations like Boeing are realising how powerful it can be in managing projects in the Executive Office (see thepresentation and the podcast by Sharon Tanner).
The Oobeya Room is in my view the key to making all this visualisation effective. It brings together all of the above to define the objectives, to choose the vital few metrics, to plan and frequently review the progress and delays of concurrent work-streams, to decide which issues need escalating to the next level up and to capture the learning for the next project (see the Discussion Paper, presentation and podcastby Takashi Tanaka).
But more importantly it creates the context in which decisions are based on the facts and recorded on the wall, avoiding fudged decisions and prevarication. It also ensures that resource constraints and win-lose situations that can arise between Departments are addressed and resolved so they do not slow the project down.
Reviewing progress and delays on a daily or weekly basis rather than waiting for less frequent gate review meetings leads to much quicker problem solving. Because these stand-up meetings only need to address the deviations from the plan and what to do about them they also make much better use of management time.
In short the Oobeya Room brings all the elements of lean management together. Taken to an extreme visual management can of course itself become a curse. I have seen whole walls wallpapered with often out-of-date information that is not actively being used in day-to-day decision making. Learning how to focus attention on just the right information to make the right decisions in the right way is the way to unlock the real power of visualisation and team-working in the Oobeya Room.
Daniel T Jones
Chairman, Lean Enterprise Academy
P.S. Those who joined us at our Lean Summit last November got a first taste of the power of the Oobeya Room from Sharon Tanner and Takashi Tanaka. For those eager to learn more they will be giving our first hands-on one-day Lean Executive Masterclass on 27 June in Birmingham, and a private session for executive teams on 28 June. There are only 56 places are available on each day so book your place NOW to avoid disappointment – Click Here to download the booking form.
It seems that Lean Healthcare is getting a lot of exposure here as of late. I will qualify this by saying “in practice” rather than “name”. The Toronto Star published yet another article, Sunnybrook cuts wait for prostate diagnosis down to 72 hours, that once again demonstrates that improvements can be made if we put our minds to it.
The Need to Change
The need to change is premised on this excerpt from the article:
“But after the needle biopsy . . . it was like my future was hanging from a thread. It was hell.”
And later …
“Men have waited too long,” says Dr. Robert Nam, a Sunnybrook uro-oncologist who is spearheading the accelerated prostate protocol.
“They wait two to three weeks. And two to three weeks knowing that they could have a live-altering disease is something to me that is not acceptable.”
Why – Beyond Reducing Wait Time
Aside from the emotional strain, hidden from view or otherwise, cancers are always best treated when they are detected early:
While many prostate cancers are slow-growing – some are left completely alone — others are aggressive and benefit from immediate treatment.
“There is a big misconception that prostate cancer is such a slow-growing disease that we don’t need to rush into anything,” Nam says.
How did they do it?
The goods news is that they already had a model to work from:
In a new program that mirrors one launched two years ago for rapid breast tumour diagnoses, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has now pledged to give men the results of prostate cancer biopsies within three days.
They also procured new equipment and found efficiencies in the way that results were processed:
The diagnostic acceleration will be accomplished mainly by “finding efficiencies” among hospital pathologists who examine the biopsied tissues and determine the presence and severity of the ailment. Nam says any priority shift in the hospital’s pathology department – which expects no staff increase — will not mean other forms of cancer get shorter shrift.
Room to Improve
As mentioned earlier, Sunnybrook had a surrogate model to follow but there is still room to improve:
Men will still have to wait three times longer for their results than women, who are promised a breast cancer diagnosis within a day of being biopsied.
It’s NOT about the money!
I share this information on the premise that we are continually reminded, at least here in Ontario, that we simply don’t have the resources or the funds to improve health care. I become increasingly frustrated by the misconception of our government that we are already as efficient as we possibly can be.
“We made it cost neutral and . . . we did not jeopardize any other program within the pathology department,” he says.
I am thankful that Sunnybrook Hospital staff have demonstrated yet again that real opportunities for improvement can be made without incurring additional expense to the system.
It’s the Culture
The significance of the effort here is not just the idea itself but the culture that allows these ideas to flourish. Sunnybrook Hospital clearly supports improvements from within and outside the hospital and is also quite eager to share them as evidenced in our previous post, Lean – Sunnybrook Doctors Benefit from Gaming Technology.
I am currently reading “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy N. Ogden where once again it is confirmed that Toyota’s culture is at the very core of it’s resilience and ability to adapt and change to meet the current crisis at hand. Clearly, the economic crisis we still find ourselves having to contend with is cause to pause and reflect on how we can indeed adapt and change to meet our every day challenges in our personal lives, business, industry, and governments alike.
There is much to be learned and so much more to be gained. We must learn to watch and listen and at the very least acknowledge that there is always a better way.
An article in today’s Toronto Star titled “Surgeons given a hands-off way to Kinect” clearly demonstrates how improvements can be realized in our work environment. One of the concerns in the operating room is maintaining a sterile field during surgery. Doctors cannot physically touch any devices away from the sterile field for fear of breaking it and have only 1 of 2 choices if they need to review MRI’s or CT scans:
Scrub in and out every time, which according to the article can add up to two (2) hours per surgery, or
Hire an assistant to page through the records for them.
In the search for a better way, Matt Strickland, a first year surgical resident at the University of Toronto and electrical engineer, and Jamie Tremaine, a mechatronics engineer, who both studied engineering at the University of Waterloo, joined forces to help solve this problem. Together, they devised a system using the XBox Kinect with the help of Greg Brigley, a computer engineer and also a University of Waterloo graduate.
Using their technology, doctors can now scroll through as many as 4,000 documents using simple hand motions, literally integrating access to information into the surgical process without jeopardizing the sterile field.
Why is this significant?
Matt Strickland was the assistant providing the necessary “documents” to the doctors performing the surgery. This is a very impressive application of thinking outside of the box. I highly encourage you to read the article. Serendipity is seldom the source of repeatable innovations, however, in this instance we’ll take it just the same.
This example demonstrates another reason to include everyone in the problem solving process and also reaffirms that there is always a better way. You just don’t know where your next solution will find its roots.
On a final note, I have to wonder if the creators of XBox even considered this application!
In my article “Waste: The Devil is in the Details“, I discussed the importance of paying attention to the details. From a company or personal perspective, the underlying theme to identify waste (or opportunity) is to be continually cognizant of what it is we’re doing and asking “Why?”
I have continually stressed the importance of conducting process reviews right where the action is. It seems we’re not alone in this thinking and I thought it was quite fitting to share an e-mail I received from John Shook:
Decompressing now from last week’s Lean Transformation Summit in Dallas, there is much to reflect upon. We heard from four companies and experienced six learning sessions to explore the frontiers and fundamentals of lean transformation. And it is always exciting to get together with 440 like-minded, lean-thinking individuals.
Apologies again to the many of you weren’t able to attend since the event sold out so early. You should know, however, we do not plan to expand the size of the event in the future. We want to continue to limit it to a relatively intimate size to enable and encourage interaction, dialogue, debate, networking, and casual socializing.
I do have good news for those of you who missed the event. One highlight was the debut of Jim Womack’s new book, Gemba Walks, which is now available to you.
Many have asked what Jim has been up to since stepping down as CEO of LEI. The answer is that Jim has remained as busy as ever and, what’s more, now his letters are back, in different form. In Gemba Walks, Jim compiles many of his eLetters, written between 2001 and 2011. Gemba Walks is more than a mere compilation, however, with some new content and new commentary for each letter, edited and grouped by topic. As a reader, I can tell you that the experience of reading the letters in this new context is surprising, refreshing, enlightening, and, well, fun. It’s always an enjoyable romp to join Jim on a walk through a gemba and Gemba Walks provides the next best thing to being there.
These three principles of lean leadership are well-known: Go see, ask why, and show respect. You know that to “go see” is fundamental to all lean thinking and acting. But, what does that actually mean? How do we go see?”
Gemba Walks reveals how Jim’s thinking has evolved over time as a result of observing what happens as lean has taken root in companies around the world over time. New successes lead inevitably to new, and better problems, for lean practitioners. This book documents how companies are continuing to press forward.
In my foreword, I recall the first time I had a chance to visit a gemba with Jim, when I was still a Toyota employee:
“The first time I walked a gemba with Jim was on the plant floor of a Toyota supplier. Jim was already famous as the lead author of The Machine That Changed the World; I was the senior American manager at the Toyota Supplier Support Center. My Toyota colleagues and I were a bit nervous about showing our early efforts of implementing TPS at North American companies to “Dr. James P. Womack.” We had no idea of what to expect from this famous academic researcher.
“My boss was one of Toyota’s top TPS experts, Mr. Hajime Ohba. We rented a small airplane for the week so we could make the most of our time, walking the gemba of as many worksites as possible. As we entered the first supplier, walking through the shipping area, Mr. Ohba and I were taken aback as Jim immediately observed a work action that spurred a probing question. The supplier was producing components for several Toyota factories. They were preparing to ship the exact same component to two different destinations. Jim immediately noticed something curious. Furrowing his brow while confirming that the component in question was indeed exactly the same in each container, Jim asked why parts headed to Ontario were packed in small returnable containers, yet the same components to be shipped to California were in a large corrugated box. This was not the type of observation we expected of an academic visitor in 1993.
“Container size and configuration was the kind of simple (and seemingly trivial) matter that usually eluded scrutiny, but that could in reality cause unintended and highly unwanted consequences. It was exactly the kind of detail that we were encouraging our suppliers to focus on. In fact, at this supplier in particular, the different container configurations had recently been highlighted as a problem. And, in this case, the fault of the problem was not with the supplier but with the customer – Toyota! Different requirements from different worksites caused the supplier to pack off the production line in varying quantities (causing unnecessary variations in production runs), to prepare and hold varying packaging materials (costing money and floor space), and ultimately resulted in fluctuations in shipping and, therefore, production requirements. The trivial matter wasn’t as trivial as it seemed.
“We had not been on the floor two minutes when Jim raised this question. Most visitors would have been focused on the product, the technology, the scale of the operation, etc. Ohba-san looked at me and smiled, to say, ‘This might be fun.'” (Click here for a free pdf of the complete foreword.)
Fun it has been. Challenging it has been, too, but always full of learning. Fun and challenging learning it will no doubt continue to be.
I am often asked what book to recommend to start someone down the lean path. From now on, Gemba Walks will be that book. With an overview of tools and theory told through stories and explorations of real events, Gemba Walks invites readers to tackle problems on an immediate and personal level. In so doing, it gives courage for beginners to get started. And for veterans to keep going.
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.
Again it is worth noting the attention to detail. I recall a number of occassions where I have challenged customers to address operational differences between facilities (not much different from the situation above). I can say that Toyota was one of the few companies that listened and actually did something about it.
I recognize that benchmarking is not a new concept. In business, we have learned to appreciate the value of benchmarking at the “macro level” through our deliberate attempts to establish a relative measure of performance, improvement, and even for competitor analysis. Advertisers often use benchmarking as an integral component of their marketing strategy.
The discussion that follows will focus on the significance of benchmarking at the “micro level” – the application of benchmarking in our everyday decision processes. In this context, “micro benchmarking” is a skill that we all possess and often take for granted – it is second nature to us. I would even go so far as to suggest that some decisions are autonomous.
With this in mind, I intend to take a slightly different, although general, approach to introduce the concept of “micro benchmarking”. I also contend that “micro benchmarking” can be used to introduce a new level of accountability to your organization.
Human Resources – The Art of Deception Interviews and Border Crossing
Micro benchmarking can literally occur “in the moment.” The interview process is one example where “micro benchmarking” frequently occurs. I recently read an article titled, “Reading people: Signs border guards look for to spot deception“, and made particular note of the following advice to border crossing agents (emphasis added):
Find out about the person and establish their base-line behavior by asking about their commute in, their travel interests, etc. Note their body language during this stage as it is their norm against which all ensuing body language will be compared.
The interview process, whether for a job or crossing the border, represents one example where major (even life changing) decisions are made on the basis of very limited information. As suggested in the article, one of the criteria is “relative change in behavior” from the norm established at the first greeting. Although the person conducting a job interview may have more than just “body language” to work with, one of the objectives of the interview is to discern the truth – facts from fiction.
Obviously, the decision to permit entry into the country, or to hire someone, may have dire consequences, not only for the applicant, but also for you, your company, and even the country. Our ability to benchmark at the micro level may be one of the more significant discriminating factors whereby our decisions are formulated.
Decisions – For Better or Worse:
Every decision we make in our lives is accompanied by some form of benchmarking. While this statement may seem to be an over-generalization, let’s consider how decisions are actually made. It is a common practice to “weigh our options” before making the final decision. I suggest that every decision we make is rooted against some form of benchmarking exercise. The decision process itself considers available inputs and potential outcomes (consequences):
Better – Worse
Pro’s – Con’s
Advantages – Disadvantages
Life – Death
Success – Failure
Safe – Risk
Decisions are usually intended to yield the best of all possible outcomes and, as suggested by the very short list above, they are based on “relative advantage” or “consequential” thinking processes. At the heart of each of these decisions is a base line reference or “benchmark” whereby a good or presumably “correct” decision can be made.
We have been conditioned to believe (religion / teachings) and think (parents / education / social media / music) certain thoughts. These “belief systems” or perceived “truths” serve as filters, in essence forming the base line or “benchmark” by which our thoughts, and hence our decisions, are processed. Every word we read or hear is filtered against these “micro level” benchmarks.
I recognize that many other influences and factors exist but, suffice it to say, they are still based on a relative benchmark. Unpopular decisions are just one example where social influences are heavily considered and weighed. How many times have we heard, “The best decisions are not always popular ones.” Politicians are known to make the tough and not so popular decisions early on in their term and rely on a waning public memory as the next election approaches – time heals all wounds but the scars remain.
Decisions – Measuring Outcomes
As alluded to in the last paragraph, our decision process may be biased as we consider the potential “reactions” or responses that may result. Politics is rife with “poll” data that somehow sway the decisions that are made. In a similar manner, substantially fewer issues of value are resolved in an election year for fear of a negative voter response.
In essence there are two primary outcomes to every decision, Reactions and Results. The results of a decision are self-explanatory but may be classified as summarized below.
If you are still with me, I suggest that at least two levels of accountability exist:
The process used to arrive at the decision
The results of the decision
In corporations, large and small, executives are often held to account for worse than expected (negative) performance, where results are the primary – and seemingly only – focus of discussion. I contend that positive results that exceed expectations should be subject to the same, if not higher, level of scrutiny.
Better and worse than expected results are both indicative of a lack of understanding or full comprehension of the process or system and as such present an opportunity for greater learning. Predicting outcomes or results is a fundamental requirement and best practice where accountability is an inherent characteristic of company culture.
Toyota is notorious for continually deferring to the most basic measurement model: Planned versus Actual. Although positive (better than expected) results are more readily accepted than negative (worse than expected) results, both impact the business:
Better than expected:
Other potential investments may have been deferred based on the planned return on investment.
Financial statements are understated and affects other business aspects and transactions.
Decision model / process does not fully describe / consider all aspects to formulate planned / predictable results
Decision process to yield actual results cannot be duplicated unless lessons learned are pursued, understood, and the model is updated.
Worse than expected:
Poor / lower than expected return on investment
Extended financial obligations
Negative impact to cash flow / available cash
Lower stakeholder confidence for future investments
Decision model / process does not fully describe / consider all aspects to formulate planned / predictable results
Decision process will be duplicated unless lessons learned are pursued, understood, and the model is updated.
The second level of accountability and perhaps the most important concerns the process or decision model used to arrive at the decision. In either case we want to discern between informed decisions, “educated guesses”, “wishful thinking”, or willful neglect. We can see that individual and system / process level accountabilities exist.
The ultimate objective is to understand “what we were thinking” so we can repeat our successes without repeating our mistakes. This seems to be a reasonable expectation and is a best practice for learning organizations.
Some companies are very quick to assign “blame” to individuals regardless of the reason for failure. These situations can become very volatile and once again are best exemplified in the realm of politics. There tends to be more leniency for individuals where policies or protocol has been followed. If the system is broken, it is difficult to hold individuals to account.
The Accountability Solution – Show Your Work!
So, who is accountable? Before you answer that, consider a person who used a decision model and the results were worse than the model predicted. From a system point of view the person followed standard company protocol. Now consider a person who did not use the model, knowing it was flawed, and the results were better than expected. Both “failures” have their root in the same fundamental decision model.
The accountabilities introduced here however are somewhat different. The person following protocol has a traceable failure path. In the latter case, the person introduced a new “untraceable” method – unless of course the person noted and advised of the flawed model before and not after the fact.
Toyota is one of the few companies I have worked with where documentation and attention to detail are paramount. As another example, standardized work is not intended to serve as a rigid set of instructions that can never be changed. To the contrary, changes are permissible, however, the current state is the benchmark by which future performance is measured and proven. The documentation serves as a tangible record to account for any changes made, for better or worse.
Throughout high school and college, we were always encouraged to “show our work”. Some courses offered partial marks for the method although the final answer may have been wrong. The opportunities for learning here however are greater than simply determining the student’s comprehension of the subject material. To the contrary, it also offers an opportunity for the teacher to understand why the student failed to comprehend the subject matter and to determine whether the method used to teach the material could be improved.
Showing the work also demonstrates where the process break down occurred. A wrong answer could have been due to a complete misunderstanding of the material or the result of a simple mis-entry on a calculator. Why and how we make our decisions is just as important to understanding our expectations.
While the latter situations may be more typical of a macro level benchmark, I suggest that similar checks and balances occur even at the micro level. As mentioned in the premise, some decisions may even be autonomous (snap decisions). Examples of these decisions are public statements that all too often require an apology after the fact. The sentiments for doing so usually include, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was thinking.” I am always amazed to learn that we may even fail to keep ourselves informed of what we’re thinking sometimes.
Admittedly, it has been a while since I checked a shampoo bottle for directions, however, I do recall a time in my life reading: Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Curiously, they don’t say when or how many times the process needs to be repeated.
Perhaps someone can educate me as to why it is necessary to repeat the process at all – other than “daily”. I also note that this is the only domestic “washing” process that requires repeating the exact same steps. Hands, bodies, dishes, cars, laundry, floors, and even pets are typically washed only once per occasion.
The intent of this post is not to debate the effectiveness of shampoo or to determine whether this is just a marketing scheme to sell more product. The point of the example is this: simply following the process as defined is, in my opinion, inherently wasteful of product, water, and time – literally, money down the drain.
Some shampoo companies may have changed the final step in the process to “repeat as necessary” but that still presents a degree of uncertainty and assures that exceptions to the new standard process of “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat as Necessary” are likely to occur.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, new 2-in-1 and even 3-in-1 products are available on the market today that serve as the complete “shower solution” in one bottle. As these are also my products of choice, I can advise that these products do not include directions for use.
Scratching the Surface
As lean practitioners, we need to position ourselves to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo. This includes the manner in which processes and tasks are executed. In other words, we not only need to assess what is happening, we also need to understand why and how.
One of the reasons I am concerned with process audits is that conformance to the prescribed systems, procedures, or “Standard Work” somehow suggests that operations are efficient and effective. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
To compound matters, in cases where non-conformances are identified, often times the team is too eager to fix (“patch”) the immediate process without considering the implications to the system as a whole. I present an example of this in the next section.
The only hint of encouragement that satisfactory audits offer is this: “People will perform the tasks as directed by the standard work – whether it is correct or not.” Of course this assumes that procedures were based on people performing the work as designed or intended as opposed to documenting existing habits and behaviors to assure conformance.
Examining current systems and procedures at the process level only serves to scratch the surface. First hand process reviews are an absolute necessity to identify opportunities for improvement and must consider the system or process as a whole as you will see in the following example.
Manufacturing – Another Example
On one occasion, I was facilitating a preparatory “process walk” with the management team of a parts manufacturer. As we visited each step of the process, we observed the team members while they worked and listened intently as they described what they do.
As we were nearing the end of the walk through, I noted that one of the last process steps was “Certification”, where parts are subject to 100% inspection and rework / repair as required. After being certified, the parts were placed into a container marked “100% Certified” then sent to the warehouse – ready for shipping to the customer.
When I asked about the certification process, I was advised that: “We’ve always had problems with these parts and, whenever the customer complained, we had to certify them all 100% … ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ … so we moved the inspection into the line to make sure everything was good before it went in the box.”
Sadly, when I asked how long they’ve been running like this, the answer was no different from the ones I’ve heard so many times before: “Years”. So, because of past customer problems and the failure to identify true root causes and implement permanent corrective actions to resolve the issues, this manufacturer decided to absorb the “waste” into the “normal” production process and make it an integral part of the “standard operating procedure.”
To be clear, just when you thought I picked any easy one, the real problem is not the certification process. To the contrary, the real problem is in the “… ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ …” portion of the response. Simply asking about the certification requirement was scratching the surface. We need to …
Get Below the Surface
I have always said that the quality of a product is only as good as the process that makes it. So, as expected, the process is usually where we find the real opportunities to improve. From the manufacturing example above, we clearly had a bigger problem to contend with than simply “sorting and certifying” parts. On a broader scale, the problems I personally faced were two-fold:
The actual manufacturing processes with their inherent quality issues and,
The Team’s seemingly firm stance that the processes couldn’t be improved.
After some discussion and more debate, we agreed to develop a process improvement strategy. Working with the team, we created a detailed process flow and Value Stream Map of the current process. We then developed a Value Stream Map of the Ideal State process. Although we did identify other opportunities to improve, it is important to note that the ideal state did not include “certification”.
I worked with the team to facilitate a series of problem solving workshops where we identified and confirmed root causes, conducted experiments, performed statistical analyses, developed / verified solutions, implemented permanent corrective actions, completed detailed process reviews and conducted time studies. Over the course of 6 months, progressive / incremental process improvements were made and ultimately the “certification” step was eliminated from the process.
We continued to review and improve other aspects of the process, supporting systems, and infrastructure as well including, but not limited to: materials planning and logistics, purchasing, scheduling, inventory controls, part storage, preventive maintenance, redefined and refined process controls, all supported by documented work instructions as required. We also evaluated key performance indicators. Some were eliminated while new ones, such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness, were introduced.
Some of the tooling changes to achieve the planned / desired results were extensive. One new tool was required while major and minor changes were required on others. The real tangible cost savings were very significant and offset the investment / expense many times over. In this case, we were fortunate that new jobs being launched at the plant could absorb the displaced labor resulting from the improvements made.
Every aspect of the process demonstrated improved performance and ultimately increased throughput. The final proof of success was also reflected on the bottom line. In time, other key performance indicators reflected major improvements as well, including quality (low single digit defective parts per million, significantly reduced scrap and rework), increased Overall Equipment Effectiveness (Availability, Performance, and Quality), increased inventory turns, improved delivery performance (100% on time – in full), reduced overtime, and more importantly – improved morale.
I have managed many successful turnarounds in manufacturing over the course of my career and, although the problems we face are often unique, the challenge remains the same: to continually improve throughput by eliminating non-value added waste. Of course, none of this is possible without the support of senior management and full cooperation of the team.
While it is great to see plants that are clean and organized, be forewarned that looks can be deceiving. What we perceive may be far from efficient or effective. In the end, the proof of wisdom is in the result.