What if your Improvement Team is the Problem?

World Class organizations use a team of trained improvement professionals to unlock value in their organizations. They see this group dedicated to working on the business rather than in the business. But, often when inexperienced or untrained, this team can be the problem rather than solving the problem. They create an environment that feels like the organization is chasing their tail.

The three signs an improvement team may be a problem are; 1.) recommendations for improvement based solely on indirect data, 2.) no direct observations 3.) implementing solutions rather than running observed experiments. (The key to an effective improvement team is being present to observe, learn, and implement improvement.)

Recommendations based on Indirect Observation Only

Indirect observation is most notably reports or charts of historical data. This type of data is very important in the improvement process and should be used to determine the point of cause for a problem. What machine has the longest flow time? What area creates the most scrap? Which oven uses the most energy? are all examples of how reports or historical data can lead to where to look.

The improvement team has to go and see the true cause through direct observations in order to recommend true improvement. Going to see the machine run with the longest flow time, observing the area with the most scrap, and observing a cycle at the oven that uses the most energy are all direct observations that lead to good improvement ideas.

A warning sign is an improvement recommendation that reads, “We need to reduce overtime in the fab department because they have the highest labor cost.”

No Direct Observations

Direct Observation is going and seeing the process in person. It is best when based on a cycle – Watching the entire process from the beginning of the process all the way back to the beginning of the process. Improvement teams have the luxury and therefore responsibility to make these observations that often the leadership cannot.

In the example above, the improvement team may learn through direct observation that the process with the longest flow days actually has its priorities rearranged hourly. They are often asked to tear down set-ups to reset up based on poor flow from upstream. They may find that the oven with the highest energy usage, actually has the doors open longer waiting from longer metal to be loaded.

These observations can only me made in the moment at the process through direct observation of a complete cycle.

A warning sign is when someone says; “We all know that is what is going on out there.”

Implementing Solutions Rather Running Experiments

The process of continuous improvement is a constant cycle of setting expectations, observing the result, and solving the problems-basically the scientific method. This does not happen when a recommendation is seen as the solution right away.

For example, an improvement idea for the area with the longest flow days because of the changing priorities may be that the daily schedule will be frozen and no one can change the priority for the nearest 24-hour period.

However, if this is presented as the solution without expectations it may turn out that the flow time increases because some of the changes were based on the availability of supplies at the process and when they are not available the rule states no one can change the schedule.

Help your improvement team be part of the solution and not the problem by using indirect observation to know where to look, use direct observation to make recommendations based on true cause, and implement all improvement as an experiment to learn.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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