Tag: Contingency Plans

Foundations of Failure

The problem with many of the problems we find ourselves having to contend with at any given time is that we learn of their existence after the fact (when the damage is done) or after discovering that the results we were looking for simply didn’t materialize.  As we learned from Michael A. Roberto’s book, “Know What You Don’t Know“, there are a number of reasons why problems don’t surface until after the fact.  I highly recommend reading “Know What You Don’t Know” as well Steven J. Spear’s “Chasing the Rabbit” as both books present numerous examples and extensive research that span across a wide variety manufacturing and service industries.

In many cases, the pathology of a given problem reveals that much of the information surrounding a given failure, or series of failures, is “common” knowledge.  In isolation, many of the contributing factors appear to be insignificant or irrelevant.  However, when we review all of the “insignificant” bits and pieces of evidence as part of the whole, we discover that it is these “pieces” that make the puzzle complete.  This was certainly the case with 9-11, Three Mile Island, The Challenger, and perhaps even the most recent economic collapse.

The expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, comes to mind as I think of problem solving in the general sense.  Even today, we find this philosophy is embedded deep within the culture of many corporations.  In some cases, the designs are so fragile, that any deviation from normal or intended use may result in failure.  Broken plates and glasses remind us that they are not intended to be dropped – either intentionally or by accident.  We are also painfully aware that the absence of past failures does not automatically exclude or make the process or product immune from future failure.  There are too many examples of failure where past successes are suddenly shattered by a catastrophic failure.

Of course, many products are subject to numerous hours of testing in varying degrees of severity and exposure limits.  Yet somehow, these tests still do not capture all of the possible failure modes that are observed in practice.  Too many product recalls are evidence of our inability to anticipate the vast array of problems that continue to haunt manufacturer’s around the globe.  Just maybe the the “If it ain’t broke” expression needs a little rework itself.  If it ain’t broke please break it – or at least try!  Computer hackers around the world having been giving Microsoft and other major corporations their fair share of problems as they continually find and develop “new” ways to break into very sophisticated and high tech systems.

Our Foundations of Failure model is based on the premise that every failure has a known and identifiable root cause.  The challenge for today’s companies is to learn how to identify problems before the product makes it to market or the process is released to manufacturing for production.  The objective is to instill an innate ability to constructively critique your concepts and designs to identify and anticipate the “What if …” scenarios that your product or service may be subject to.

Perhaps an even greater skill to be learned is to identify and anticipate how the product or process may be used or abused – with or without intent or malice.  From this perspective, lean manufacturing principles and standardized work can certainly help us to map our road to success.  Technically, if the ideal process and it’s inherent steps are performed as specified, then any deviations from the prescribed process or design are subject to a system breakdown or product failure.  As discussed in “Chasing the Rabbit“, this was (and is) certainly the case for the US Nuclear Submarines.

Are your system, process, and product specifications documented to the extent that deviations from their intended purpose or function can be, or are, readily identified?  Is it even possible to forecast or anticipate every possible failure mode?  Is it fair to suggest that prescribing a solution to a problem suggests that the original scope of the problem was or is fully understood?

As we have learned from the numerous failures in our financial markets and the collapse of many high profile businesses and companies around the globe, common symptoms and effects of failure may be the result of radically different root causes:  ignorance, negligence, willful misconduct, and even fraud.  We need to implement systems and processes that are robust and assure our future successes are built on solid fundamental business practices.  When the foundation is faulty, the entire business enterprise is at risk.

In summary, the first step is the most critical step.  The first few steps of any new initiative, process, product, or service, form the foundation of all decisions that follow.  Just as a building requires a solid foundation, so do our future successes.  I recall a little sign that was posted in a retail store that read as follows:

Lovely to look at,
Lovely to Hold,
But if you drop it …
Consider it Sold!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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Using TRIZ for Problem Solving – Introduction

Using TRIZ for Problem Solving – Introduction

A famous quote from Albert Einstein, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.“, applies to the discussion of problem solving and more so to the topic of TRIZ, The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, developed by Genrich S. Altshuller.

TRIZ – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

Genrich S. Altshuller developed TRIZ based on his search for a standard method to solve problems.  At the very basic level, once a problem is identified the objective is to determine whether a similar problem has already existed elsewhere.  If so, study the solution and determine whether it can be incorporated into the current solution being sought.  Taken one step further, consider the possibility that a different perspective of the problem may also present a unique inventive solution.

It does not seem too far fetched that the problem to be solved has occurred elsewhere in a completely different context.  The solution that is found may also be out of the context but the concept may lead to an innovative solution for the current problem at hand where one never before existed.

The application of TRIZ requires an open mind.  We often bring our “tool box” of experience to the table and draw on those tools and our wealth of knowledge to create a solution.  TRIZ is a tool that can be used to create completely new and unique solutions to a given problem.  This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our current technology and know-how; it simply means that there may be other options where the current know-how and / or technology may not apply or it may be applied in a manner that is quite different than it is today.

Identify the Real Problem to be Solved

Any problem solving method can only be successful if the true root cause is identified.  Once found, a clear and concise problem statement must be formulated to assure that the solution developed and implemented indeed addresses the true root cause.

Searching for Solutions:

Once a problem has been identified, the next question is, “How do we solve it?”  There are a number of techniques that can be used such as brain storming and idea mapping, however, one seldomly used technique is TRIZ:  Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.

Every day we are challenged with a diverse range of problems from machine malfunctions to defective parts.  The very nature of any company’s operations requires an immediate fix to restore operations to “normal”.  Recognizing that a problem exists is not the same as understanding what the problem is and effectively solving the problem requires that we have identified the true root cause and not just the symptoms.

Many tools are readily available to even help us address these concerns or identify where opportunities exist to make improvements.  Unfortunately, these tools seldom provide the solution to the problem.  Too often we are trapped inside the box of current thinking, technologies, standards, methodologies, present knowledge, and even company policy.  Our own levels of thinking and plausible solutions are influenced and limited by our current understanding and knowledge of the problem as well as our own experiences.

The Basis for Using TRIZ to Solve Problems:

Technology

In some cases, product or part designs themselves may be constrained as engineers and designers work to generate a design tailored to a specific, known, technology.  Quality Function Deployment is one strategy that provides a platform to explore alternative design and process approaches before committing to a specific technology or process.

It is worth noting that, although product design is critical, processes and technologies used to manufacture the product itself are often overlooked and seldom are the process constraints and their affects ever considered.  There are many examples where numerous hours are wasted attempting to develop tools using traditional technologies to produce parts that conform to the wishes of engineers and designers.

How do we actually go about solving problems where the technology or the design present constraints that prevent success?  This is the basis for TRIZ:  We have clearly identified the problem to be solved, now we need a solution to resolve it.

Problem Classifications

Although problems may have varying degrees of difficulty, the solutions for them can only fall into one of two overly simplified categories:  Known or Unknown.  While this classification may appear simple on the surface, consider the unknown solution.  Is it truly unknown or is it only unknown to you.
  1. Known:  Surrogate process already proven and only requires adaptation for the current situtation.  The “problem solver” has an awareness or experience related to the solution.
  2. Unknown:  Typically, solutions are often limited by the scope of experience of the person or person(s) attempting to solve the problem.
    1. The problem solver is not aware of the solution’s existence (Personal)
    2. The solution is outside the problem solver’s scope of experience, training, or field of expertise, but may exist within the company (Company)
    3. The solution is not known within the company but is known within the industry (Industry)
    4. A solution can be realized although it does not presently exist (Outside Industry).
    5. Requires an inventive solution that goes beyond improving the existing condition and is not known to exist anywhere.
  3. Although a solution may be found or developed internally, it may not necessarily be ideal.  We recommend continual review of trade journals, going to trade shows, and networking not only with industry peers but outside your areas of expertise as well.

We will pursue the TRIZ methodology as both a learning and problem solving method.  Often times the solution to a problem requires a different perspective to achieve an effective resolution.

Applying TRIZ in the real world:

TRIZ can be used to develop solutions in a wide range of applications.  As Contingency Plans are developed, you may determine that a solution is required to address a problem or crisis that company has not yet experienced.  As we have discussed, the information or solution to the pending “crisis” may already exist elsewhere.  Similarly, improvements to Overall Equipment Efficiency may require solutions to be developed to address problems or opportunities that are inhibiting continued improvement. 

We will continue to pursue the application of TRIZ in the real world and present a more detailed case study.  

Note:  We would also recommend and encourage you to visit http://www.mazur.net/triz/ for an indepth presentation and detailed discussion of TRIZ.  This site provides greater detail and background that is presently beyond the application or scope of this series.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

 

 

Contingency Plans – Crisis Management in Lean Organizations

Contingency Planning For Lean Organizations – Part IV – Crisis Management

In a previous post we eluded that lean organizations are likely to be more susceptible to disruptions or adverse conditions and may even have a greater impact on the business.  To some degree this may be true, however, in reality, Lean has positioned these organizations to be more agile and extremely responsive to crisis situations to mitigate losses.

True lean organizations have learned to manage change as normal course of operation.  A crisis only presents a disruption of larger scale.  Chapter 10 of Steven J. Spear’s book, “Chasing the Rabbit”, exemplifies how high velocity, or lean, organizations have managed to overcome significant crisis situations that would typically cripple most organizations.

Problem solving is intrinsic at all levels of a lean organization and, in the case of Toyota, problem solving skills extend beyond the walls of the organization itself.  It is clear that an infrastructure of people having well developed problem solving skills is a key component to managing the unexpected.    The events presented in this chapter demonstrate the agility that is present in a lean organization, namely Toyota in this case and it’s supplier base.

Training is a Contingency

Toyota has clearly been the leader in Lean manufacturing and even more so in developing problem solving skills at all levels of the organization company-wide.  The primary reason for this is the investment that Toyota puts into the development of people and their problem solving skills at the onset of their employment with the company.  The ability to see problems, correct them in real time, and share the results (company-wide) is a testament to the system and it’s effectiveness has been proven on many occassions.

Prevention, preparation, and training (which is also a form of prevention) are as much an integral part of  contingency planning as are the actual steps that must be executed when a crisis situation occurs.  Toyota has developed a rapid response reflex that is inherent in the organization’s infrastructure to rapidly regain it’s capabilities when a crisis strikes.

Crisis Culture

We highly recommend reading Steven J. Spear’s “Chasing the Rabbit” to learn and appreciate the four capabilities that distinguish “High Velocity” organizations.  The key to lean is creating a cultural climate that is driven by the relentless pursuit of improvement and elimination of waste.  Learning to recognize waste and correcting the condition as it occurs requires keen observation and sharp problem solving skills.

Creating a culture of this nature is an evolutionary process – not revolutionary.  In many ways the simplicity of the four capabilities is it’s greatest ally.  Instilling these principles and capabilities into the organization demands time and effort, but the results are well worth it.  Lean was not intended to be complex and the principles demonstrated and exemplified in Chasing the Rabbit confirm this to be true.  This is not to be construed as saying that the challenges are easy … but with the right team they are certainly easier.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

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Contingency Planning For Lean Operations – Part III

Contingency Planning for Lean Operations – Part III

 

Deaths spark huge crib recall” was the main headline of today’s Toronto Star (24-Nov-09).  This recall was the result of 4 infant deaths and affects up to 2.1 million units sold.  Click here to access the full article.  This announcement has made headlines throughout North America and is certain to be featured on all of the major network news stations.

Managing a major product recall is likely one of the more significant events where contingency plans are fully executed and developed.  As tragic or unfortunate as the events may be, it is imperative for a company to manage the recall event in professional and responsible manner.  While it may seem difficult to prepare for an event that has not yet occurred, learning to anticipate the sequence of events to recovery and to script are necessary steps to developing an effective contingency plan.

What are the elements of an effective contingency plan?

We will be covering the elements of an effective contingency plan over the next few posts.  Before we get too far into the process, it is important to recognize that one of the critical skills required as part of the contingency planning process is the ability to perform an effective risk assessment.

It is not our intent to cover all aspects regarding risk assessments and analysis as this would require a book in itself.

A newly released book, The Failure of Risk Management – Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It, by Douglas W. Hubbard (copyright 2009) and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., provides extensive insight and resources to perform effective Risk Management Assessments and Analysis.  The reasons why some risk management methods fail or are susceptible to failure are also covered in detail.

As exemplified in the opening article, there is no real means to measure the net effect or impact of a recall campaign of this magnitude.  Elements such as Consumer Confidence, Brand Loyalty, Loss of Life, or Warranty are difficult to value in tangible terms.

Unfortunately, there are too many examples of crisis events where the knowledge was available to rectify or fix the situation before any tragic event occurred.  As heard in many workplaces, “Why is that nothing is done until something bad happens?”

An effective contingency planning is not only designed to manage tragic or crisis events, it should also aid to identify potential failure modes that can be captured and addressed before a product is ever released for mass production or to market.  Consider the following two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: (Highly unlikely …)
    • Jill:  What if the part fails?
    • Jack:  We’ll recall it.
    • Jill:  How will we do that?
    • Jack:  We have an excellent recall management process

What if the dialogue took a different turn as follows:

  • Scenario 2:  (More likely …)
    • Jill:  What if the part fails?
    • Jack:  What could possibly go wrong?  It’s perfect.
    • Jill:  Engineering said it barely passed the tests.
    • Jack:  Well, maybe we should take another look at the design.
    • Jill:  Great, you know we can’t risk a recall.

Developing a Contingency Plan – The Process

1.  Corporate Responsibilities – Charter

If contingency planning ever concerns an individual person in the company directly, it is the Chief Executive Officer or the president who are personally at risk of significant legal ramifications and also the greatest level of exposure.

This past year Maple Leaf Foods experienced a major Listeria outbreak at one of their food processing facilities.  Contaminated product reached the market place resulting in illness and loss of life.  A major recall was initiated and the company immediately initiated corrective actions.  During this crisis, the CEO took personal responsibility for public relations, communicating the strategy, and ultimately overseeing the recovery process.

The CEO or President should be leading the charge for the development of contingency plans and to assure their effectiveness.  To this end, it is also imperative that the team responsible for formulating the plan includes a cross-section of people from across the company.

The CEO or President will also want to assure that everyone is trained to respond to events that pertain their specific areas of responsibility.

2.  Contingency Planning – Form a Team

As we mentioned in our previous posts, contingency planning is an enterprise-wide process.  The collective intelligence of the team is greater than that of any team member.

You should consider the skill sets that may be required to support the team.  Although we are not suggesting that you need to be an expert in probability theory or statistics, someone having exposure to these types of assessment tools or an outside consultant may be worth the effort.

It is not possible for one committee to prepare contingency plans for every area in the company.  When forming teams, how the skills and levels of expertise required to support the team in one area may be vastly different for another area.  For example, Product Engineering and Operations will have different failure modes to contend with.

To ensure the appropriate resources are available, we recommend that  executive management or a steering committee are assigned to oversee the contingency planning and development process.

Based on some of the scenarios cited in this post, it would stand to reason that most CEO’, Presidents, and / or owners are primary stake holders in the Contingency Planning process.

More will follow:

  • Performing Risk Assessments
  • Contingency Planning Tools
  • Do The DRILL
  • Publish
  • Review

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Contingency Planning For Lean Operations (II)

Contingency Planning For Lean Operations – Part II

Putting together a contingency plan can be quite challenging when you consider all the things that could go wrong at any given point in time.  Contingency plans should not only be restricted to “things gone wrong” and are not limited to operations or process specific events.  All aspects of an operation are prone to risk.  As such, contingency planning must be an enterprise wide activity.

Failing to understand and assess the risks that may impact your operation is a recipe for future failure.  If you fail to plan then plan to fail.  The same is true for contingency plans.  Effective risk management and contingency planning are critical to minimize or eliminate the effects of failure.

Natural disasters (like we’ve never seen before) continue to plague us without prediction.  Yet, we are able to respond immediately and effectively.  If you get hurt or injured, someone is there to help you simply by dialing 911.  Emergency units are ever present and available to respond.

Unfortunately the same is not necessarily true for business.  The recent turn in the economy caused financial markets to tumble and decimated corporations on every scale.  Millions of people are affected by the fallout.  The government “loans” were not crafted after the event.  Did contingency plans exist to even consider this level of change in the economy?

Although history may be the best predictor of future events, it is not exclusive or exhaustive to predicting unforeseen future events.  Even if history did provide a glimpse of potential future failures, we may simply choose to ignore the probability of recurrence – this isn’t the first time the financial markets have crashed, yet we can’t seem to determine or understand what key indicators existed that could have prevented this current situation.

Certainly new variables are introduced as technologies continue to evolve and become more integral in our operations.

In Part I of this series we suggested that contingency plans should be prepared to address potential labour challenges and more specifically availability.  Certainly, the recent concerns regarding the H1N1 virus have heightened attention with respect to labour shortages.

  • Inclement Weather – Immediate effects of Snow Storm, Hurricane, Heavy Rain, Tornado.
    • Other considerations include:
      • Duration
      • Seasons
      • Cumulative Severity
      • Delayed Effects (flooding)
      • Property Damage.
  • Accident / Injury:  Personal versus Workplace
    • Long Term
    • Short term
    • Considerations to reduce or minimize impact to operations:
      • Early Return To Work
      • Modified Duty
      • Restricted Duty
      • Reduced Hours
  • Illness (Personal / Family / Extended Family)
    • Short Term
      • (Flu, Cold)
      • Emergency
    • Long Term
      • Surgical Care
      • Chronic Care
  • Sudden Premature Death
  • Parental Leave (Maternity Leave)
  • Bereavement – Immediate Family, Out of Country
  • Retirement / Attrition
  • Training
    • Onsite vs Offsite
    • Duration
  • Meetings – Department
    • Company Wide
    • On Site
    • Customer Site
  • Quality Disruption
    • Containment Activity
      • Sorting
      • Rework
  • Travel
  • Vacation Allowance / Timing
    • Customer Driven
    • Company Mandated
    • Personal Choice
    • Season
    • Duration
      • New Hires – Zero Weeks
      • Senior Employees – Per “X” Years of Service
  • Holidays
  • Absenteeism (Culpable)
  • Layoff and Recall
    • Short Term
    • Long Term
  • Supply Chain Disruptions – Raw Material or Part Supply
  • Planned Shutdown / Start Up Events – Holidays
  • Leave of Absence – Short Term / Long Term
  • Facilities
    • Loss of Utilities:  Water, Electricity
    • Fire, Suspended Services
    • Parking Availability
    • Locker Space
  • Equipment – Breakdown / Malfunction (Major)
  • Tooling – Breakdown  / Malfunction (Major)
  • Skill Levels Required – Non-Skilled, Semi-Skilled, and Skilled Labour
  •  Union – Strike
  • Customer Decreases
    • Shutdown (Reduced Volume)
    • Slow Down (Reduced Volume)
    • Reduced Work Week (4 vs. 5 days)
    • Shutdown (Planned)
  • Customer Increases:
    • Volume
    • Extended Work Days (Daily Overtime)
    • Extended Work Week (Saturday)

There are likely more areas of concern that may impact your labour pool, however, this does serve as a starting point.  Do all of the above elements require a contingency plan?  Not necessarily.  We still contend that it is good practice to document all potential concerns.  It is easier to add a note to document the reason for exclusion from the contingency plan by stating:

  • The following elements were discussed during the preparation of this plan, however, specific contingency plans were not considered necessary at the time of review:
    • Training – Scheduled Activity
    • Culpable Absenteeism – Progressive Discipline Program
    • Add Elements to the List as applicable

This latter task may seem somewhat trivial, but consider who else may be reading the report.  Defining the scope of the contingency plan and adding a list of exclusions supported with reason(s) clarifies any ommissions from the core plan, will minimize the time required for review, and eliminates any assumptions regarding unintended ommisions.

Our next post will address the elements to be considered when developing a contingency plan.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!