Getting your shop floor organised part V: do we solve our daily problems?

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In my previous post 4 quick checks to get your shop floor organised, I described a system for turning resources into customer value that, in turn, improves bottom line results. This involved taking a 30 to 60 minute Gemba Walk around the shop floor, with the following four questions in mind:

1)            What is the next work to take?
2)            Are we ahead or behind?
3)            Where are our abnormal conditions?
4)            Do we solve our daily problems?

Having already discussed the first three questions in other posts, it’s now time to delve deeper into question #4, Do we solve our daily problems?

Finding shop floor answers to this fourth question calls for a good level of visual factory. Visual factory is a lean fundamental, because if you cannot see, you cannot help! Equally as important, presenting the current status and progression towards targets in a visual way drives accountability for results. This is where Team Improvement Boards come in.

Team Improvement Boards – bringing staff and operators closer
Ideally, every shop floor should have a board displaying all the issues which have been encountered over the last day, and week, complete with various metrics. These are not nice-to-haves for showing off to managers or visitors, but for the purpose of bringing real value to operators and staff.

When implemented well, Team Improvement Boards are a hub for structured interaction between staff and shop floor teams, serving to effectively bridge the well-known gap between “them” and “us”. Staff, in general, are genuinely interested in knowing about workplace issues and how they can contribute to resolving them. If the board is managed well, in terms of being updated and reviewed, staff can – or rather, they are obliged to – pick up and deal with any critical issues it shows. Operators, on the other hand, generally get engaged once they see things being resolved by staff that they cannot do themselves.

To ensure these boards deliver their intended value, it is essential to adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Up-to-date: Information on the board has to be very up-to-date. Updated daily, at the very least, but ideally per shift or even hourly. The information has to be accurate, valid and complete.
  2. Focussed: The board has to remain focussed on the applicable work process. It must not include issues or details relating to the wider factory, for addressing nice-to-haves or as an outlet for general complaints.
  3. Meeting discipline: Daily meetings at the boards, attended by all relevant staff members together with the shop floor Board Manager, have to be kept short: 5-10 minutes per board. All attendees must always be there strictly on time. Only one voice should be speaking at a time during the meetings. Storytelling must be avoided. Manage by exceptions only.
  4. Preparation: To facilitate these short and concise meetings, the boards must be fully up-to-date with all the relevant information before the meeting begins. This must be done by the operators themselves: these are their results after all! Be wary of supplementing the hand-written boards with too many nice-looking printouts, as these may kill the appropriate ownership. The shop floor Board Manager must be prepared with all the information, opinions and suggestions relevant to any issues which will be discussed during each meeting.
  5. Buy-in: Convincing people of the value of new tools and systems, such as Team Improvement Boards, typically takes a number of weeks. Leadership has to give this sufficient attention and effort.

Setting up Team Improvement Boards starts with defining the topics, metrics, observation categories and targets which will be displayed.

Topics and metrics
Issues displayed on the Team Improvement Board need to be defined by topic and described in terms of metrics which can be measured and tracked for progress. While every workplace may have specifically relevant topics, the SQDC-structure is a particularly good one to follow. SQDC stands for:

Safety: Rather than documenting accidents, it is a good idea to track the number of unsafe conditions observed, such as trip & slip hazards from hoses on the ground or moisture spillages. These should be expressed using a metric that can be followed at the very least on a weekly basis, but ideally on a daily basis.

Quality: Shipping poor quality goods never makes sense. This is a good opportunity to track the amount of rejected product.

Delivery: Do I get my products at the rate intended? Day by the Hour tracking (see previous blog) would be great.

Cost: This is an opportunity to display metrics such as labour hours or materials usage.

Selecting metrics which are meaningful to your operation is vitally important. These must be expressed in language the operators speak, not in corporate terminology. And they should be easy to measure by a simple count or visible display, without the need for a calculator. As previously mentioned, they need to show frequent movement, so the topics they relate to do not become “dead”.

Reason codes and categories
To further organise the information that comes to the Team Improvement Board, it is a good idea to create a set of reason codes or categories for each of the observations. For example, if referring to the topic of Safety, these codes could be assigned to things such as the type of unsafe condition observed or its location within the shop floor. In addition, the first reason why something happened is a good distinguisher.

Aim to have 4 to 8 different categories. More than 10 is usually too confusing. And try to avoid attributing observations to the “others” category whenever possible. It may be necessary on occasions to dig deeper to really identify where the observation fits in. It may be that an additional category needs to be defined to capture common types of issues which often find their way into “others”.

Organise the information into manually filled-in count or (spatial) check sheets, and use it to build weekly bar charts. Do not expect to arrive at nicely sorted Pareto charts: this is a working board, not a management report display!

There’s no point in measuring topic-related issues unless your observations lead to appropriate action. So setting targets is essential for judging when and what is necessary. Meaningful target setting at a daily level can be a challenge, as discussed in my previous post Am I Ahead or Behind? – using averages from historical data has major disadvantages!

Advanced cases may call for different target categories, such as reject, quarantine or control limits. These latter limits typically represent the common cause variation for the metric. Any short term result within these limits should not result in an immediate action, because this would only make things only worse! This area of discussion enters into the topic of using (SPC) Control Charts to distinguish Common Cause and Special Cause variation. Information on this is abundant from the Six Sigma and quality assurance community.

Action completion  
Every metric that is tracked should have an associated action list. After all, without action completion, the entire Team Improvement Board exercise is a complete waste of time!

Look for recent progress updates. Ask how you can visually observe the effect of the completed actions. Were they effective? Look at the typical completion time for actions. Are they being swiftly carried out, or do they drag on for weeks?

If there is no visual factory at this level, you could at least ask about the last modification made to the workplace: what, when, where, why and who. If the answer is unknown or occurred over six months ago, there is probably room for improvement.

Vincent Gerdes is Senior Business Process Consultant at R&G Global Consultants in the Netherlands.

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