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?
Enjoy the fall colors. All the best.
I recently became part of the roster of ASQ national Six Sigma instructors. When I know what and where I'll be teaching I'll let you know.
Six Sigma Black Belt Training starts December 12. If you already have a Green Belt, this 10 day training course includes projects and coaching to teach you the skills you need to tackle Black Belt projects. Check the website for more information under training events for more class details.
If you're an old hand at Lean and are ready for a new challenge why not try some Six Sigma Green Belt training? It's still CI but with a different toolkit based on data and statistics to go after deeper, hard to solve problems that Lean may not eliminate.
Project coaching is part of the course to help walk you through applying new concepts to your company issues. A new class starts on January 16.
Check the website for more information under 'Training Events'. You can access the page by clicking here.
Assessing Your Operation
My job allows me to visit many plants, and my clients often want to know if I can help them improve their operation. When I evaluate an operation, I look at the implementation of hard, Lean tools, as well as soft tools such as evaluating culture, which can be defined as ‘the way people agree to treat each other’.
Evaluations can be completed formally using an audit sheet and a resulting score. More commonly it is an informal evaluation, based on the things I observe. Here are the top ten questions that I typically consider when I tour a shop. They form the basis of discussions with my clients during subsequent meetings to develop a specific and customized program for their needs. All of these tools fit under the umbrella of continuous improvement (CI).
"Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage. The easiest of all wastes and the hardest to correct is the waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material. ~ Henry Ford
CI Terms Defined
DMAIC comes from the Six Sigma world and is a really good way to manage projects of any type of projects, whether or not they are Six Sigma related. Much of what we want to do is reduce the variation in our processes and impact the bottom line positively.
D - Define
M - Measure
A - Analyze
I - Improve
C - Control
The project flow is as follows: First we Define the project in terms of problem statement and objective. Then we collect data to Measure our process and the related inputs (or X's).
We then Analyze the data to get to root cause and identify the inputs that most influence the outcomes (or Y's) that we want to achieve.
Using charts and statistics to analyze data can be intimidating unless you've taken the training and can see how these tools contribute to understanding the entire situation without relying on "gut feel" or "twenty years of experience" to try and solve problems.
Once we understand the process and how it contributes to variation we apply Lean tools to Improve the process and reduce waste and variation.
The Control phase allows us to maintain the gains we've generated so we're not constantly solving the same problems over and over again.
It may sound like a complicated process - after all we know what the problem is, why not just fix it? If it were that easy then the problem would have been solved long ago.
The DMA front end of the process allows us to know what Lean tools to apply where to ensure we reduce variation and achieve our project objective.
The entire DMAIC approach allows us to methodically and logically go through the problem solving steps to ensure that this time we have the knowledge to solve the problem for good.