Skip to main content

Do You Know What You Are Meant to Be Improving?

Many years ago when I was on a summer placement from university I was fortunate enough to gain experience in a prestigious manufacturing business. The most interesting part of that experience was that I spent over seventy percent of my time working on the ‘wrong’ project. This article is going to re-live part of that placement and share with you my thoughts on how to make sure that your improvement project has the best chance of generating the results you are looking to achieve.

When I started the project it was not something new that I was dealing with. According to the engineers on the team the problem had existed in some shape or form for the past fifteen years. This time period had allowed for a number of theories to become agreed within the team as to why the problem was occurring, but still the elusive goal had not been attained. The downside for me, upon reflection, was that a distinct direction had been set and I was about to follow it.

I used a range of approaches to try and better understand the problem and try to resolve it. SPC, or Statistical Process Control, was the primary technique and, although it was useful to learn how to use this tool and to apply it in the real world away from the limitations of text book learning, I was no closer to figuring out what was going wrong. Apart from being very little process control to speak of there was also no correlation with the end results.

After spending quite some time with the manufacturing team, investigating process control, a small observation about the selection of tooling started to concern me. After some investigation into the tooling issue it turned out that the whole problem was due to a tooling selection problem, not a process control issue. After a little bit of verification and some colour coding we removed the problem overnight. As I said at the start, this project was sent down one route of enquiry and the problem was actually something else.

Looking back there was a clear case of not challenging the assumptions laid out before me as the project started. I was a different (younger) person back then and my thinking has matured, but I can see how I readily took advice from the sage like elders in the team without evaluation. Being familiar with the idea of cause and effect and broadening my options at the start of the project may have allowed me to complete the entire project in only one week by ruling out potential causes for the effect I was trying to eliminate. And that is the point of this article. If you are struggling to solve a chronic business issue then revisiting the cause and effect relationships in a broad way could show you an entirely different route to take and ultimately help you get the results you need.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

Popular posts from this blog

The Kaizen Checklist is here!

Do you want to get better results from your Kaizen programme? Improve your business results quickly with my downloadable kit (including guidebook, workbook and templates) for only $39. Are you looking for a sustainable way to identify and implement improvements across your business? Practical improvement strategies The Kaizen Checklist is a downloadable kit that you can use with your management team to develop a system that suits your business and allow you to quickly implement Kaizen effectively at your place of work. This works great if you use it as the centre piece of your own internal workshop. The kit includes a 40 page guidebook, a workbook, four appendices and three templates. All parts of this kit are designed to get you up and running as fast as possible. If you are unfamiliar with Kaizen, let me stress that this is a simple improvement philosophy that is so much more than just  ‘a Japanese word for continuous improvement’. I’ll cover what it rea

Kaizen projects: being honest about being off track

Projects, especially improvement projects, have a tendency to get off track. There is often a clear distinction between projects for customers and projects for ourselves. If our improvement projects fall behind then our customers won't be barking at us; it is no wonder that if something is going to slip it is our Kaizen endeavours. For some people this can be a tough conversation to have. No one wants to be a 'failure' and pride often gets in the way. In my experience it seems that it is believed to be far more credible to ignore the requirement to improve than to admit that we aren't making progress. So, if you find yourself (and your business) in this situation, what can you do about it? Let me share with you two options to increase the visibility in your business around progress with projects and four options to help get your projects back on track. Increasing visibility Ok, no more hiding the status of Kaizen activities . This also means no more being precious about

Kamishibai Boards

Available to purchase here. Some tools are incredibly simple to use, and also deliver some amazing results. Kamishibai boards are a great example and are superb when you want some visual control over routine tasks. By the way Kamishibai is pronounced "come-e-she-bye" in case you were wondering! As simple as you could want it, a Kamishibai board is a T-card system that has red cards glued to green cards (so that each T-card has a red side and a green side). The red cards are for the incomplete tasks, where as the green cards symbolise that the work has been done. See the photo below of a board in use. On the red side of the card you write the name of the task that needs to be completed, and if appropriate you can include details of how the task is to be completed. This is not expected to replace standard operating procedures, but can be a good opportunity for an aide memoire. The boards can be organised for daily, weekly and even monthly cycles. They are g