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Lean Manufacturing: Throughput Time

 

PART II. 

 

During the successful MRPII implementation we learned a great deal about the value of training, the value of teams that were focused on a specific problem or problem set, and the value of empowering that team to operate semi-autonomously until the point of presentation. Request for approval to move forward and make recommended changes often involved a new team formed with several of the original team members plus others with special skills or specific vested interest in the changes.

Each of the teams were comprised of various disciplines. Even supervisory personnel were involved. From the staff level to lower levels of supervision, individuals played a role on the team. We had a saying: "You may enter the arena of TEAM but you must check your stars and bars at the door." Rank has very little business in the true team environment—it can only disrupt the creative process if it is misapplies. Also included were technical disciplines from materials, manufacturing engineering, account­ing, and quality control. The direct labor force that was impacted in the particular area where the analysis was taking place was also represented by individuals who had received proper training. As a side note, team training at any level was open to all employees, regardless of job grade. These truly cross functional teams often brought in people from sales or marketing, from product engineering, from legal, or from whatever area of the corporation that they felt an input would be helpful so that they might more clearly understand the direction and focus that they should have to satisfy the greatest good for the corporation. Often these individuals attended a meeting by request without clearly understanding what their role would be. Their input was always valuable to well trained teams.

I think the term well-trained teams demands some discussion at this point because I believe it to be critical in the successful implementation of throughput reduction or other waste reduction objectives that you might address. Each of the team members had undergone team training wherein they learned through interaction how to be a positive contributor to the team environment. Skills in listening were emphasized as well as skills needed to participate in discussions were sharpened.

Involvement in developing a problem statement that was clear and concise so that the focus of the team was not misdirected was practiced. These teams were led by team leaders who had undergone formal team leader training. We had some experience with teams being led by people without that specific training and the results were less than desirable.

Each team had the benefit of a trained facilitator. I must confess that my personal skills as a facilitator while academically are quite good, did not always measure up so well. A good facilitator must remain a true catalatic element in a well functioning team and be a strong counselor for the team leader and sub-team leaders that are involved in the process; however, they should not enter directly into the process. My downfall is an inability to be quiet and allow the process to take place without excessively introducing my own thoughts, beliefs, and prejudices into the process.

Good facilitators are a valuable commodity and this company was blessed with a number of individuals who functioned in that role quite well. We often used a facilitator for several teams at the same time. This required an understanding supervisor because the number of teams and their meetings could cut deeply into the facilitator's work schedule. Somehow a good facilitator always seemed to find time to assist the teams and to accomplish their functional tasks as well. It has always amazed me that very busy people are sought out to do other things and more often than not they seem to be able to find the time to accomplish those things without damaging their functional responsibility.

Thoroughly trained teams, leaders, and facilitators must be provided an environment of support along with some reasonable physical facilities that allow them to meet and to discuss things in a quiet environment. The payback is tremendous in the management of the change process.

We used many problem solving techniques (multi-voting, fishbone charts, etc.) to arrive at the areas of focus where we needed to be. The teams, trained in consensus decision making, more often than not, used consensus decision making techniques to arrive at their final recommendation. One trick of making this approach successful is to choose a backup decision making technique that is too painful for the team to accept. Often times staff members found themselves identified as the alternate authority for decision making if the team were to fail to reach consensus. In many cases the teams never wanted staff to make decisions and consensus was reached.

It is important to note that to use consensus decision making as a style of reaching some level of agreement takes considerably longer than allowing an "expert" to make a decision and move

forward. The democratic process of voting simply insures that you have as many as 49% of those involved in opposition to the process that now is considered "an agreement".

I must take a moment to point out something regarding this specific project. The team of individuals that accomplished this pilot success did not include me. My role as a senior manager was to help the process have a place to germinate and allow talented individuals at all levels of the organization to work closely together to reach quality decisions. The reduction of throughput time on a single assembly without carrying through to the total product line would not have accomplished what we wanted as the ultimate outcome. The company wanted a competitive advantage and consequently we were not "project" oriented. We were process implementation oriented and it was important for individuals to feel a sense of ownership and dedication. Although they are not named in this paper, they know who they are and deserve total credit for the success of this pilot and they can take pride in the other programs that were patterned after their success.

To be Continued


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