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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.
Until Next Time – STAY lean!