In order to appreciate the successful program
that has been described above, it is important that there be a
counterbalance upon which one can weight the evidences to
determine if the effort has real value. The company experienced
some failures in this process. If my memory serves me correctly,
all of the "failures" were a function of human relations
difficulties and were launched after violating some very basic
rules. Yes, we made our rules and we violated them. I suppose that
simply provides that we are human and capable of having to
relearn. Often we think that we can somehow short cut those things
that we have "mastered".
It is also worth mentioning that
"failure" is subject to definition. While we had a few
failures in the sense that the end result did not match what our
initial expectations were, I doubt that we had any true failure
because of the learning that occurred in each individual involved.
It made them a better team member for the next effort when they
applied that learning.
I feel that integrity demands that I describe
one area that I consider to be a failure and why. This was an area
where I was personally involved in the process with varied roles
on the team.
In an inventory control experiment, a group of
individuals were brought together and the objective for the
"team" was established by upper management. Although a
particular set of problems is normally evident before a team is
put together for problem solving activities, the establishment of
the specific objective from outside the team has a considerable
negative effect and may, in fact, focus the team in the wrong
direction. The team must be left to its own devices to determine
the problem set and then proceed after understanding of the
objective has been reached by the team.
The second mistake made in this particular team
was using the team environment to attempt resolution of a
politically sensitive organizational problem. Some areas of
conflict must be dealt with outside the team environment. It is my
opinion that this was an example of one of those circumstances.
Embarking upon a technical problem that was not
developed in the literature and could not be illustrated with an
example in a rather extensive survey of industries. The one
example of how the problem was being managed was not considered
practical for our application. As a consequence the process became
a lengthy R&D effort. The net result of this set of
circumstances was a very lengthy (in excess of six months) process
that netted little learning considerable animosity and no solution
set for the stated problem. The perception of the outcome does, to
this day, vary with the perspective of those individuals that were
involved in the process.
In retrospect, it appears that the R&D
effort (MISTAKE 3) would have been interesting and exciting had it
not been commingled with the other two elements that I have
described as mistakes.
Even Mistake 1, had it existed alone, would
have been able to be overcome by the team. The strength of teams
had been such that stated needs or requirements by upper
management had been able to be modified based on the logic
associated with team findings.
Having said that, it would appear that the
basic problem with this "failure" is one of two things:
1. An inordinate amount of organizational
politics became imbedded in the process, or
2. The synergistic friction of three mistakes
made the problems so complex as to render them unsolvable in any
reasonable period of time.
A comment on the length of time that a team
should remain alive. While the team has ultimate responsibility
for setting goals with intermediate milestones and charting a
clear and planned course, our experience has been that the longer
a team is in existence the less effective it becomes. Teams that
go on for very long periods of time should be viewed with some
concern for their effectiveness as a function of the time being
spent. There are teams that should be established on a somewhat
permanent basis; however, often times the team makeup should be
adjusted periodically in order to provide fresh views. In the
truest sense of the team, anytime a new member is introduced to
the team, the team must go through a readjustment period and build
trust between the new member or members and the old members before
the team can begin to function again in an open environment.
Other Good Things
Another team focus was in our office area
associated with customer orders. We took the number of steps in
processing a customer order from 14 to 7 and reduced the total
time from some 80 minutes to 30 minutes per customer processing
We have spent considerable energy in teaching
our vendors SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die). This set-up
reduction methodology is essential if we are to receive smaller
lot sizes that provide us better quality, lower inventories and
faster throughput. It results in faster throughput for our
suppliers as well, and, therefore has value to them.
We undertook a program to reduce the time
involved in our sheet metal operation in the UK so that it might
become a better internal supplier to the operations in Europe.
Similar successes were made there and they were documented in
terms of cost and lead time reductions that facilitated the use of
those materials into sold products in a shorter period of time.
This had excellent financial impact as well as better customer
Another area where we have made significant
strides is in operations for certain processes that were in some
instances eliminated and in some instances modified significantly.
This was accomplished by utilizing the individuals working in the
area and organizing them into teams that were trained and
understood their role.
Of significant impact is the introduction of
new products and the use of teams to shorten significantly that
process so products can move from development through prototype,
pilot and production phases in the shortest amount of time. A
focus on the future identifies this area as high priority in order
to continue to be a leader in the production of medical
This paper has taken on the tone of a discussion of teams and
team application to problem solving rather than just the specifics
of a given throughput reduction program. I do not feel apologetic
for that twist in this paper simply because I believe
wholeheartedly that the elements associated with a true team
environment is the key ingredient. Throughput time is critical to
our success in today's market place. The Pacific Rim is now able
to compete favorably with 7,000 miles of ocean to negotiate. Our
domestic suppliers as well as ourselves have only a few miles of
highways. We must continue to shrink the amount of time that it
takes to accomplish any given task. We must undertake waste
removal programs in every element of our business.
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