Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Are the Squirrels Getting In the Way of Reliability in Your Facility? The Movie Series

No today's post is not about fuzzy little animals chewing through your control wiring or completing the circuit to ground in your switch gear although many may have noted these as root causes for reliability issues in the past. Today is about an even a bigger root cause of under-performance in manufacturing today. Squirrel! or as I am calling it corporate distraction. Dug and the rest of the dogs in in the Disney Pixar movie Up suffered from this problem. Lets take a look at a promo clip if you haven't already.

Dug and his compadres, they have trouble staying focused on the task at hand and we can hear that because of the verbalizer around their necks. You see the verbalizer allows us to hear their thoughts. What if you could hear all the thoughts flying around your facility. What distractions might we hear? Is the organization focused on a goal or does it seem to chase after every squirrel that comes along.
Manager that are just making a quick stop as they climb the ladder can be especially affected with corporate distraction. When they hear of an initiative that someone in the organization fancies then they want to do it to impress that person. Just as they get started they find out about another one and in their haste to be promoted they go after that one as well. In a nut shell they over commit and under deliver. I have seen this over and over. It becomes a lot like chasing squirrels, on the way to one you see another one that you just have to go after.
I have also seen managers who live for real bottom line results and long term plant performance. They do not let the squirrels get them off track. They take the time to have a leadership planning session regularly where they look at all of the initiatives that are here or on the horizon for the plant as a whole. They look at the value and return for each and how multiple initiatives might fit together to enable the organization to get to the current vision and the goals that have been set. Sometimes they need to change the goals and adjust the mission to match changing business needs that have arisen but when this happens it is communicated well to the organization. Either way they look at the resources that exist for the plant and the funds available to support improvement initiatives prior to committing the plant to them. The next thing they do is start a high level plant master plan that shows not just what, but how and when they are going to execute the initiatives chosen for the site. They also have gates or systems in place to prevent the new squirrels from distracted them from their current focus as they begin execution.
What do you do in your site to keep the squirrels at bay and the focus on results in the forefront?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Saying the Same Thing Differently: A Tip for Change Initiatives

As you start any large change initiative one of the first things you do is form a guiding coalition, a leadership team. That group will champion the change. One of the first things that group is then tasked with is to create a vision and mission for the change initiative. Where do we want to go? How will we get there? This vision and mission is then ratified by the group and should then be communicated to the larger organization. This is where some organizations run into their first major issue. They create the vision without a full understanding by each of the involved parties as to what details the vision conveys. Human resources only hears the part that affects them and misses the operational component or maintenance only hears the changes in their function and ignores the quality aspects. Then the leadership group begins the communication process to the masses and the message is both delivered and received differently by various parts of the organization. An organizational mess can then be created one word at a time.
The suggestion is to take time to practice, as a leadership team, conveying the message to each other. It is expected that everybody will delver the message slightly different using their stories, filters, and life experiences to add the context to the vision. However, in the end the message received by the organization needs to be the same regardless of the communicator or the communication style. This is harder than it sounds and may even require teaming up of leaders from different parts of the organization to ensure consistent messaging reaches the affected associates. If we do not get this step correct the organizational components can go down different paths that may in the end lead to to different locations and inadequate initiative results.
Have fun with this step use role play, single point lessons, and scripting within the leadership team to refine the message and delivery. Work together where needed to generate a cohesive message. In the end this will provide the team with a practiced method to say the same thing differently with in the comforts of their preferred styles and should remove one more barrier from your initiative's success.

What things do you do to refine your communications and messaging around change initiatives?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Is Your Production Line a Race Car or a Minivan? Process Thinking for Maximum Output

So during a recent conversation with Duane Siemen, a reliability engineering manager and classic "tweaker", we were discussing process improvement. Duane was sharing some of the work that he had done in the past to improve system reliability and throughput by focusing on the controls, communication, and tweaking how each machine in the system interacts with the system as a whole. I could not help but to compare the work that he did to the work of some of the great car tuners like Hennessy, Stillen, Roush, and Lingenfelter. When you think about cars or process equipment a few things are true for both. When you buy a stock car or a production line it is tuned to be conservative and somewhat mediocre. The car is not tweaked for the way you drive or where you drive from an environmental stand point and it is always "value engineered" to control production cost. It is set up to more or less work everywhere but excel nowhere. This means that without tuning and an understanding of operating context you leave a lot of performance on the table. Your production line is ordered with equipment from different manufactures that may or may not be set up to communicate with each other and may or may not like to run at the system rate. Many of the elements of the system may have been just dropped into the line without any concern for the up and down stream equipment in the system. Designers some time work under the philosophy of "will it work"not "will it work best." Did that designer know all the specifics of your widget packaging process or did they just create a packaging line?
So what if you wanted to tune your production line like Hennessy tunes a Viper.
The first step would be to understand operating context. A drag car is completely different from a track car.
  • What are you using the line to do?
Second, learn all the equipment in the line. Without a full understanding of the dynamics and capability of the components then you can not begin to tweak. Roush would never take a car they had never studied and start changing ECU settings. They take the time to understand the parts before they tune the whole.
  • What is the full capability of the equipment and parts in the production line?
Third, we focus on getting the system unified through communication. We want each piece of equipment in the line to have solid communication with the others so that each can tell the other parts what is needed to push performance. Some parts of the line may actually slow down to improve quality and this in turn will increase overall output but only if they can communicate their need to us or the system. In racing they say, "you have to slow down to go fast" that is what we want to be able to do with the equipment.
  •  Are the parts talking reliably with the whole? Are they using that information to improve system output?
 Forth, we begin to problem solve and truly tune. We change a parameter and ensure we get the response we predicted. Does it effect the whole positively. We then use root cause to understand when it does not.
  • Do the changes give the results we expected?
Lastly, we focus on sustaining the changes. As you tune and increase performance tolerances get tighter. Precision become more important. Operating context needs to be stable or at least understood. Because of these factors you may need more built in checks and possibly more preventive task to keep the equipment in spec and operating at peak performance. You may have to go so far as to build a daily management plan to maintain the levels you expect to produce the performance you want. 

So in the end you need to understand your conditions, capability and components to get from  minivan performance to race day ready production.