Whenever I visit a company I make sure I connect with operators and team leads, as they can give me a true sense of what is going on in the operation. They often explain how it is troubled by ‘complex’ and ‘hectic processes’ with ‘many last-minute changes’, and that ‘never a week goes by without issues’. They end up spending a lot of time fire-fighting; wasting additional time and resources to correct faulty processes in the internal supply chain. Such inefficiencies, which are all too common, can be avoided through having better insights into the disruptions which lead to fire-fighting. And these can be obtained through Sub-Process Analysis.
Lacking shared view
The operators and team leads I meet tell me they do share their grievances with their operations managers. Yet the situation never seems to improve. “Why not?” I wondered. I discovered that, more often than not, this is down to the fact that a shared view between operators and operations manager about the process performance is lacking. The issues an operator or team lead faces are not experienced to the same extent by the operations manager, as these disturbances (i.e. variance) aren’t reflected in most process performance KPIs.
Most KPIs measure only the end result of a process without reflecting the effort it took or the issues which were overcome to achieve it. Therefore, none of the delays or disturbances in previous sub-processes, nor the fire-fighting that took place to mitigate the accumulated delays, remain visible in the end. The inefficiency therefore only appears in anecdotal form, which is often not enough to convince management to invest in taking action.
Where problems start
Consider this example. A late order comes in, nothing out of the ordinary. As this concerns an important customer the can-do mentality kicks in and, after a quick check and several phone calls with planning and production, the order is inserted into the plan. The order runs through the normal process, but with just a little less time available. So it is given tiny bit more priority, which results in other orders getting just that little bit behind schedule. Nothing that can’t be handled. A check before delivery identifies a few incomplete orders and, after a few more phone calls, rush transports and quality checks, the order is complete and ready for yet another on-time delivery.
Scenarios which result in similar on-the-fly adjustments can develop from numerous root causes: late availability of raw-materials, incomplete production orders or minor errors in specs, you name it. But it’s nothing that the operations team isn’t used to or can’t handle, and in the end the final delivery is still on-time. Fire-fighters are appreciated for a job well-done and all is well in the end, right? Not quite.
Even if these situations seem minor, or incidental, they are still wasteful of resources and cause unnecessary stress. Importantly, the fact they happen at all indicates inadequacies in internal sub-processes. If these processes sufficiently support all the flows through the internal supply chain, fire-fighting scenarios don’t develop in the first place. Achieving this starts with getting insight into the sub-processes variances which are weak points in your overall process.
Fire-proofing your operation through Sub-Process Analysis
Let’s take a look at how you can obtain vital insights into your internal processes variances, so you are equipped to cut out unnecessary fire-fighting.
Extend use of your OTD KPI
Start by reviewing your current OTD KPI (ref: ‘How to analyse and improve your OTD-performance’) and make it a diagnostic metric. This enables you to see and start to understand the variance within your process. Implement this diagnostic metric at every critical handover point between departments or processes to determine the on-time delivery and first time right performance of each process step.
Identify your weak points
Now perform a Sub-Process AnalysisTM to help you identify how much each process step of your internal supply chain contributes to the accumulated variance in your final delivery to the customer. It will show you which processes are the main contributors to disturbances and variance in your internal supply chain, and where to focus analysis and/or improvement effort first.
Performing a Sub-Process AnalysisTM will provide the critical information which reflects what is being experienced on the operation floor as a measurable metric. Once you are in possession of this, you can stop fires from starting in the first place.
Laura Diepeveen is Business Process Consultant at R&G Global Consultants in the Netherlands