We see a lot of different processes at various levels of process performance. Some are running near six sigma levels, while others don’t even think they have a process that they follow.
The maturity of the process should determine the type of tool to apply.
If your process is just getting started with process improvement, has no metrics, have never defined a common process, and doesn’t know where to begin, start simple. The two tools we recommend are 5-S and standard work (actually let’s call it consistent processing, since standard work is more complex than it seems).
5-S is a way to clean and organize the workspace, so that unneeded items are removed, needed things are well-labeled, easy to find, everything has it’s place, so it’s easy to see when there are problems in the workspace. To maintain these methods are difficult, but the first couple phases are easy and can gain some quick efficiency gains, along with a pleasing appearance.
Consistent processing is about defining a process that can be followed by everyone involved in the process, so that the problems created by differences in approaches can be reduced, and the new process can be adjusted according to problems that occur going forward. It’s too confusing to try and improve a process that doesn’t have any repeat performance. When you look for root cause, there are often so many process issues that can “muddy up the waters”.
I recently helped with some yield problems at a facility. We had the failed unit hooked up to the test equipment, asking all kinds of questions, testing different scenarios, trying to identify what could be the problem. When we finally decided to open up the unit, it was missing a major part! You end up wasting a lot of your time investigating the simple stuff, and it slows down the improvement process (instead of working on the major issues). Establishing some standards for assembling, repairing, reworking, and verifying processes is a must!
You might also be concerned that workers will feel “confined” by a standard.
Here is what you can do to alleviate their concerns:
1) Involve them in developing the process, so they own the process, and feel a part of its development.
2) Reiterate that the standard is the safest and most efficient way to do a process TODAY, but can be improved or changed at any time.
3) Recognize those individuals who helped establish the best process, and those who improve it, to encourage others to come up with better ways of doing something. If they get some motivation from being recognized by their co-workers and leaders, then they may spend time trying to think of better ways to improve the standard.
If you can instill that kind of thinking in your people, you are really maturing as a company.