Small Group Improvement Activities (SGIA's)
The last idea I would like to cover in this report is SGIA's. We
have used this approach and have made many mistakes. I would also
tell you that the assigned team approach has a place in the scheme
of process improvement. I have found this approach to problem
resolution to be tricky and to require a fair amount of
understanding from all parties—management as well as participants.
Here are a few of the lessons we found helpful along the way. I
might add that, unfortunately, many of these were learned the hard
way-through trial and error.
I guess that every project I have ever been involved with starts
with education. I have had the opportunity to work with many
companies in my career and have heard, many times, how education is
such a simple idea and yet it is the one most often listed as "what
I would do more of if I had a second chance." There cannot be too
much education offered to a workforce. The education basics should
at least include business planning, asset management, problem
solving techniques, and team building concepts. We put together
pieces of several different packages that our Human Resource
department was able to procure. We even included business ethics
which most of the participants enjoyed. It also helped put everyone
on the same page and automatically installed a common glossary which
helped communication (which always can use help).
Problems Too Complex
We had several false starts on SGIA's before we realized we were
assigning or suggesting SGIA activity too difficult to accomplish
quickly or easily enough to be the "win" we needed to set the stage
for successful problem solving through team empowerment. It has been
our experience that SGIA activity must address problems in small
bites appropriate for the experience of the team members. This is a
lesson difficult to learn, short of having some proof, through
trial. We had facilitated training in problem solving techniques
prior to starting SGIA's. In the training materials it was clear in
defining SGIA activity should, initially, be limited in scope. Even
armed with this knowledge, we still gravitated toward bigger
problems in our anxious vigor to put our training to work. It does
not work! One such example was our attempt to empower a group to
develop measures around DRP Class "A." The team we delegated to, was
made up of employees inexperienced in problem solving techniques.
They also (we realized later) lacked confidence to, on their own,
affect all aspects of the business to the point required by world
class standards. The process of learning these lessons was long and
ugly. I would only restate that the problems have to be sized to the
experience and talent assigned. Our best experiences have also been
with problems that can be solved in three months or less. Stringing
them out increases the probability of failure. Even this requires
management to keep a watchful eye in the beginning to feed the
process and push away log jams that might develop early.
Stick to One Area
When problems are too broad and complex, solutions often encompass
multiple areas. To cross the lines into other departmental
territory, the team members must be very well versed in problem
solving techniques, process evaluation, and root cause analysis.
This takes a very mature team to work quickly and effectively.
Generally speaking, if a team cannot solve and bring a problem to
closure in at least three months, the members will loose steam. We
tried several times to apply this theory correctly before we began
to fully understand the need to correctly size the problem to the
team. This should not be in the least bit discouraging, however.
Problems that are solved within the scope of the affected department
can be implemented with ease almost immediately.
Attempt to define solutions that affect the least amount of
departments. Try to shun resolutions that are targeted at "the other
guys." By setting this rule, more creative solutions result and are
implemented faster and with more ownership. One of our early
observations was that one of the first solutions to every problem,
consistently, was to change the computer business system software to
accommodate some new twist. Programming is at a premium and
solutions became clogged down in the mire of programming
prioritization. We led all teams away from this solution by asking
them to look for alternatives before settling on software
enhancements. It worked. Solutions started coming that were more
imaginative and, again, more easily implemented as well as cost
effective. This is not to say that software changes are never
necessary—quite the contrary, but this cannot be the do all/end all
answer. More times than not, it is unnecessary with some creative
problem solving applied.
It cannot be said enough that management must be closely involved in
the process for employee involvement to take hold and flourish.
Management must show interest, lead by coaching, acknowledge
achievement, and be consistent. Walk the talk, so to speak.
The most important measurement we have in the company is probably
the latest one we added. We measure the number of suggestions made
and the number of suggestions implemented each week.
For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02
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