The first step in any process improvement initiative is to define the problem or business opportunity. However, companies often complete this step far too quickly. In some cases, businesses try to find a rush to solution without really addressing the real issue.
Paul was a recent case in point. Paul had just commenced a project-based process improvement programme. He works in an assembly area on a mezzanine floor in a manufacturing company.
The forklift brings products for assembly to Paul and his team from the ground floor. Paul’s lean project was to install a lift in the area as the team were often waiting on the forklift driver. He was quite frustrated that management couldn’t see this and wouldn’t justify the expenditure.
In fact, Paul had presented a rush solution without actually defining the problem and the impact on the team. He needed to take some steps back and understand what was actually happening. Moreover, the team had recently had to wait for an hour on work from the ground floor.
- How often did this happen?
- What was the process for ordering material?
- Did anyone communicate to management?
- How often did work need to be moved?
In short, there was no data on any of these questions. Moreover, there was no real process in place for delivering the product.
Waiting for the Forklift
To clarify, the forklift was also used to receive purchased items, to load deliveries and to manage stock on the ground floor. Any of these activities could delay the transfer of work to the mezzanine unless someone put a plan in place.
It also became apparent that there was limited product in the process staged for assembly. The company needed to map the entire process and understand how the work flowed within the business. Mapping forced the team to think about their process and their commitment to their customers. Above all, they needed to understand the links between each stage of the process. In addition, the team needed to agree on ways of working. This was the second stage of process improvement.
Consequently, the ‘solution’ of installing a lift is now likely to be superseded by a pull system in the short term. This gives a clear signal to the forklift operator when the product needs to move. In the longer term, the team are now considering a cell-based layout on the ground floor. Like all good Lean systems, there is no mystery. Just simple ways to engage the knowledge and experience of the staff already present in every business.
We are very proud of the improvements that all of our participants have achieved in 3 months. You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into practice.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our blog on the Rush to Solution. You may also be interested in reading about our insights on the Leader’s Role in Building a Lean Culture and Could the Absence of a Kanban System be Consuming your Cash? All our blogs are available to read here. Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter.