To take on the larger battle of reducing engine
overhaul lead time, six employee Task Groups, or teams, were
established. These teams consisted of about five or six Engine
Shop mechanics and technicians, as well as engineering and quality
staff. Each team was assigned a specific segment of the overhaul
clean and inspect
engine assembly and test
The team's task was to develop plans for
streamlining the activities within their segment of the overall
process. To complete this task, the teams followed a structured
Process Improvement plan that consisted mainly
of understanding the current overhaul process, collecting relevant
data and process information (such as current lead times, process
routings, etc.), analyzing to determine root causes of existing
problems and delays, and developing solutions and plans for
Prior to starting this 12-week process, all
Engine Shop employees (about 300) were provided with a two-hour
overview of JIT and the specifics of the improvement process.
Although this required considerable effort, it helped considerably
to ease people's concerns about the improvement process (how is
this going to affect me?) and to partially overcome people's built
in resistance to organizational change. As well, the Task Groups
and team leaders received additional training in JIT, the
Improvement Process, problem solving techniques, team dynamics,
and other relevant topics.
Launching the Main Offensive!
After considerable preparation, the teams
launched their 12-week war against lead time. The teams got
together each week for a meeting lasting about two hours, and
spent an additional two hours outside of the meeting working on
While ultimately successful, the teams ran
across some difficulties over the 12 weeks, including: wanting to
jump ahead to solutions without first doing the required data
collection and process analysis; and getting side-tracked from the
main goal of reducing lead time. As well, several of the teams
lost some enthusiasm and energy for going after further lead time
improvement after initial solutions were proposed.
Overcoming these obstacles required that the
team facilitator strongly reinforce the original battle objectives
and the structured 12-week process. This kept the teams focused on
the prime objective, and provided a framework for doing the
necessary process analysis that is essential for getting to the
root cause and for developing best solutions. Additionally, the
consulting resources utilized to guide the overall improvement
process consistently challenged the teams to develop better and
better solutions. Management realized that the Engine Shop
employees, while key to the success of the improvement process,
were not experienced process analysts or JIT implementers, and
that they required strong technical support.
The teams that performed particularly well did
a very thorough job of defining the current process, determining
current performance, and setting specific goals. Conversely, the
teams that tended to get off-track were those that made
assumptions about how work currently was done, and that did not
agree on set lead time reduction targets.
At the end of the 12-week Improvement Process,
the teams presented their findings to senior management (this
further proved management's commitment to improvement, as it was
unheard of before this project to have shop floor employees making
presentations to senior level management!). At these meetings, the
teams asked for approval and, if required, funds to proceed with
their improvement plans. At the end of each meeting, the Vice-Presi-
dent signed the authorization to proceed or, in
one case, asked for more information and analysis. Again, strong
commitment to the improvement process was further exemplified by
the immediate feedback provided by senior management.
Without this fast and decisive response, the
momentum built up among the teams and other shop employees would
have been put at serious risk. In this instance, however, this
organization began a process of continuously preparing and
launching new task groups to tackle other problems and issues
that, three years later, continues to generate solid benefits.
The Rewards of Victory
As a result of the efforts of these six teams,
the lead time for overhaul of JT8 engines was reduced from 90+
days to about 48 days. As well, very significant inventory
reductions (both engine and parts) were achieved. This level of
lead time and cost improvement, combined with other performance
improvement efforts throughout the maintenance operations, also
enabled the airline to capture greater contract engine repair
work, including a contract to overhaul engines for key U.S.
Government aircraft (they could overhaul these engines faster and
at a lower cost than the original engine manufacturer!).
In addition to these direct benefits, this
initial lead time reduction effort (combined with a similar effort
for aircraft overhaul) led to the continuous launching of further
task groups to tackle other problems and issues. This continuous
improvement approach and the adoption of time-based operations
continues to this day.
Time-Based Management is an effective approach
for achieving very significant reductions in lead times and cost,
and for achieving overall improved operating performance.
Successful implementation requires that a strategic direction or
focus be in place to drive the overall improvement effort, and
that specific improvement targets be established. As well,
considerable attention must be paid to preparing the organization
to effectively cope with significant organizational change.
Finally, the employee Task Group is the engine that drives the
improvement process. As with jet engines, the employee teams
require considerable set-up, testing, and maintenance to
effectively operate. Given the proper level of support, however,
these teams can, and do, achieve exceptional results.
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