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 A Continuous Improvement Article

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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.

Education

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.

Management Involvement

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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