Paying Attention to the Little Things
All too often managers are focused on the things they're paid to manage that contribute to the bottom line. What's our sales conversion rate this month? Why is our scrap rate increasing? Why are customer lead times drifing upward?
These questions are mostly focused on outcomes or symptoms. What doesn't often get talked about are the factors or activities that help drive these outcomes in the appropriate direction.
Sometimes we think of them as inputs and we need to focus on inputs and process to get a good outcome, just as good ingredients and a robust method help us to bake a tasty cake.
Have sales people skipped steps in the quoting and follow-up process? Has a change in the way material is packaged contributed to damage on the shop floor?
Lead times are a solid symptom of business processes. It may be easy to know which part of the process is "late" but it's not always obvious why that part of the process is not working well now. Employees didn't suddenly forget how to satisfy customers or get a "bad attitude". Usually it's something beyond their control that has changed.
We need to understand what has changed, how it affects the outcome we want, and what to do to correct the process so it's back on track.
What can we do about it?
We can apply good CI principles to understanding the situation, developing effective countermeasures, and making sure they stay in place.
If you know what Lean tools to apply and where to solve your problem, then go ahead and do so. If, however, like so many situations, the tool choice or location isn't obvious, then you should apply the 'DMA' front end of the Six Sigma methodology (explained in CI Terms below) to understand what to do and where.
We can use root cause tools, like 5 Whys, fishbone diagrams, or mind maps to help get to the physical cause, or immediate cause, of the issue. Perhaps the scrap rate is increasing because the process changed but the written procedure did not.
The real issue, to solve the problem so it never re-occurs, is you need to get to the system cause. You need to ask another, deeper, question, "Why did the written procedure get overlooked when the process change was introduced?"
All too often we stop at the physical cause and overlook the system cause. One common response to a CAPA from a customer is "the operator was retrained on the proper procedure." This is a classic example of looking at the physical cause and missing the larger system cause that there is no written documentation on how to properly perform the task at hand.
While it's tempting to solve problems quickly, we need to make sure they stay solved by using the proper tools and systems thinking, otherwise we're just fighting fires. Are you a problem solver or a fire fighter?