I met with a business owner about a month ago who had questions about how lean might help his business. During our telephone discussion, he shared that his product line of automotive aftermarket products had grown so significantly that his team was forced to do shorter and shorter production runs to meet rapidly growing demand for each SKU. He asked how lean might help his team become more efficient at changeovers in order to reduce downtime and produce consistently high-quality products.
I suggested we meet to discuss it further and let me view the operation firsthand. As a result, my findings suggested that improving changeover times was in fact not the primary issue to be addressed. Instead, he should be introducing better means to control the flow and management of inventory. The objects in the mirror were not as they appeared.
The problem is, if lean had been initiated with the wrong problems in mind, it would only have served to exacerbate the problem, not improve it.
In the situation above, suppose we mapped out the changeover process, ran some kaizen events and improved the flow and efficiency of the process. The result would have been constant inventory shortages, which in turn would have shut down the line, creating even more downtime.
What would the owner say once this happened? First, he would likely think I was a flake. Second, he would always doubt the power of lean.
My question for you would be this: Are you looking at the real causes of your efficiency problems, or simply accepting the obvious as the source of all evils? Here are some questions aimed at helping you uncover the true source of causes, which you can use while assessing the problem areas and interviewing those who are involved.
- What are the input and output processes or steps that influence or impact this process?
- How do the processes and steps that lead into this process function? Are they effective?
- What bottlenecks exist within the process now? What do you think is their cause?
- In what situations do these bottlenecks or delays occur? When are they not occurring?
- What would you change in this process that would help you be more effective?
- How else might this process be improved?
- Why do you think these issues or challenges exist? How long have they been in place?
- What evidence do you have to support the frequency and impact of these delays or challenges?
- What else do you think I should look into that would make this process flow more smoothly?
- Who else involved or affected in this process should I speak to?
I’m not suggesting that you need to speak with everyone, nor am I suggesting that you need to interrogate those who have anything to do with the process.
What I am trying to point out is that what you believe might be the problem often is not, and that by digging deeper into the process variables, steps and interacting with those involved, you will create a much better understanding of the root causes behind the challenges. This, in turn, provides you with a starting point for your assessment and lean implementation.
Lean isn’t a popularity contest. You can just take someone else’s word for what the issues are so as to avoid rocking the boat, or you can dig deep to gain a real understanding of the drivers behind the inefficiencies.
Personally, I would rather be accurate than be popular, wouldn’t you?
Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. Learn more at www.casemoreandco.com or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.