When problems are identified in an organization today, the
overpowering urge exists to bombard the problem with high-tech
solutions. MRPII, EDI, Data Collection—think for a while WHY these
systems are typically considered for a business application. Is it
because everything is working perfectly and life is wonderful and we
had some extra time and/or money on our hands? Safe to say usually
not. It's because "something is wrong with this picture."
However, one of my favorite questions is "WHY?"—Why do you have too
much inventory? Why do you have trouble translating customer
requirements to the shop? Why can't you find that order on the shop
floor? Why is our reject rate so high? Why are we losing market
share? If you are having trouble executing on a simple, more manual
level, why do you labor under the illusion that automating the
process is going to help? It 'aint gonna happen!
Under the existing conditions, these systems will simply serve as
another roadblock to the flow of information in an organization. We
don't trust the data; the reports are always wrong; so we go back to
our manual systems and everyone feels safe and happy, defeating the
purpose of any integration we've attempted.
The point here is that safe and happy aren't where it's at. I
certainly don't advocate psychotic management styles that keep an
organization running out of fear, but you need to challenge the
thinking of your people to find that certain level of performance
that will keep you above the competition. Last year's conference
theme was all about winning the business war and that hasn't
changed—it's still a jungle out there. Think about the theme of this
conference—managing change. Our ability to break out of the safe
and happy and integrate the different areas of our business to
remain flexible enough to respond to the changing marketplace
determines whether or not we survive.
How Do I Recognize the Problem?
Given that the communications issues I've highlighted so far are
relatively difficult to identify, how can you determine where to
focus your improvement energy? One of the best places to start is to
look for what I call "Communication Stoppers"—warning signs, if you
will, that indicate a deviation from the desired (effective) flow of
The first sign is the existence of a lot of manually generated
"subsystems" in different areas. While you may have a business
system in place that is theoretically integrated, are there users
who insist on generating their own information and using that as
the main driver of a portion of the business?
That practice can undermine the trust factor in the system very
quickly and in the rare event that some really useful information
exists there, other users aren't linked into it. This practice also
supports the"knowledge is power" mindset, which can alienate other
members of the organization.
My next two signs are usually seen together—More "desk time" than
usual for your key players and an increase in "CYA" activity. When
communication between groups stops, the natural tendency is to
retreat into a defensive position to make sure "we don't take any
unnecessary heat from that other department." More time tends to get
spent on this defensive activity instead of on productive,
innovative work, and in the Ibng run that reduces the effectiveness
of your organization. As the focus shifts from team to individual,
the goals of the business become secondary to the goals of the
The last sign to focus on is the "confrontational meeting," where
the different functional groups start to do battle with each other.
This is really a final stage of communication breakdown—your
professionals have come to look at each other as the enemy, when the
true focus should be towards the competition. Everybody in your
business process has to be recognized as being a customer, whether
it is the obvious end user of your product or service or the person
who sits in the next cubicle. Getting everyone to understand who
their customer is and what their particular communications needs
are is an excellent starting point. If you can't begin to diffuse
this situation and redirect the energy of your staff, things will
go from bad to worse quickly and you stand the chance of alienating
and losing your good people.
To be Continued
For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02
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