The first step in any process improvement initiative is to define the problem or business opportunity. This step is often completed far too quickly and in some cases defines a rush solution without really addressing the real issue.
Paul was a recent case in point. Paul has just commenced a project-based process improvement programme. He works in an assembly area on a mezzanine floor in a manufacturing company.
Products for assembly are brought to Paul and his team by forklift from the ground floor. Paul’s 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. We needed to take some steps back and understand what is actually happening. The team had recently had to wait for an hour on work from the ground floor.
There was no data on any of these questions and no real process in place for delivering product.
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 some notice was given or some plan was put in place. It also became apparent that there was limited product in the process staged for assembly. There was a need 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. The links between each stage of the process needed to be understood and the team needed to agree on ways of working. This is the second stage of process improvement.
The ‘solution’ of installing a lift is now likely to be superseded by a pull system in the short term giving a clear signal to the forklift operator when the product needs to move.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 achieve in 3 months. You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into place?