Organizational Opportunities from the Frontline Story 24: Challenging Status Quo | Operational Excellence Quick Hits
Quick Hits share weekly tips and techniques on topics related to Operational Excellence. This week’s theme relates to organizational beliefs. We hope you enjoy the information presented!
In today’s session, we’re going to continue the series on organizational opportunities, stories, and lessons learned from the front lines. The story for today comes from a manufacturing company operating in a stock environment. This company was facing significant production pressures to meet customer demand. However, they were able to stabilize production and improve flow, resulting in a significant reduction in lead time, improved on-time delivery, and reduced work-in-process.
During the process improvement efforts, it became apparent that there was a bottleneck area within the company’s operations. Upon analyzing this bottleneck area, it was discovered that the machine in that area was being operated at only half its capacity. This raised the question of how to challenge the status quo and improve productivity in that specific area.
Challenging the status quo involves questioning why a process is performed in a certain way. Often, the answer received is “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “if we change it, we’ll encounter problems.” To address this, the Socratic method is employed to uncover any outdated beliefs or practices that may hinder process improvement. This can reveal what is referred to as a “Bigfoot.”
A Bigfoot is a belief or condition that originated from a special cause event in the past, but no longer holds true or affects current operations. Many times, a problem occurs, leading to process modification instead of addressing the root cause. Over time, this modified process becomes the new norm, and people continue to follow it without questioning its relevance. To be effective problem solvers, it is crucial to identify and address the root cause of issues, preventing the need for process alteration.
Understanding cause and effect is also vital in problem-solving. An effect refers to the outcome or consequence resulting from an action or event, while the cause is what brings about that effect. By identifying the root cause or causal chain leading to an effect, we can address problems more effectively.
Companies often struggle with problem-solving because they skip essential steps in the process. The PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle provides a systematic approach. It starts with assessing the current situation, gathering data, and defining the problem. Once the problem is identified, primary causes are determined and analyzed to find the root cause. By following these steps with discipline, organizations can arrive at a permanent solution.
Building accountability into the process is crucial for effective problem-solving. Responsibility and accountability differ, with responsibility being shared and accountability being individual. Shared responsibility can lead to ambiguity, whereas clear accountability ensures that individuals are answerable for their actions and processes. Immediate action can be taken if tasks are not performed correctly, preventing issues from escalating.
Reducing the management window is another important aspect of problem-solving. The management window refers to the time between when an action occurs and when its effect is understood. Lengthy management windows can result in problems going unnoticed until later stages of the process. By addressing issues immediately at the point of occurrence, the impact can be minimized.
Understanding what is considered normal in a process enables the identification of abnormalities. Visual management is an effective tool for communicating the current status of a process without relying solely on verbal communication. Through visual aids and displays, everyone involved can easily grasp the current condition and spot any deviations from normal. By incorporating visual management, abnormal situations can be promptly addressed, preventing the emergence of significant problems.
In the case of the manufacturing company mentioned earlier, they were loading a machine to only 50% of its capacity due to a belief that loading it to full capacity would cause downstream jams. However, upon investigation, it was discovered that the machine did not jam when loaded to full capacity. This revealed a past special cause event that was no longer relevant. To prevent further issues, visual aids were implemented to indicate when the machine was not loaded to full capacity, and a troubleshooting guide was created for immediate corrective action.
To conclude, today’s session emphasized the importance of challenging the status quo, problem-solving, accountability, reducing the management window, understanding normal conditions, and incorporating visual management. These practices can contribute to operational excellence, cultural transformation within an organization, and improved workforce productivity.