ILLOGICAL Improvement – Made Real & Logical Overnight
Here’s a true story from few years ago. Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent…
A growing diagnostic reagent manufacturing business had a bottleneck in its key manufacturing process. The line was running ‘flat out’ and the production team leader was under pressure to make more to supply a growing market. His boss called me in from the company’s central business services engineering group. Equipped with stop watch and notebook…went straight to work. This may sound very ‘60s thinking but it is still worth doing today. By the end of the day there was enough data to come to a conclusion. A quick analysis showed there was at least 25% spare capacity. So, why the impression that the line was running flat out?
Coffee was needed with the team leader…
What’s going on? Who are the characters? There’s Gareth reporting to the team leader, who has responsibilities beyond just this line. He is experienced and not very opinionated. He is a solid team member and good follower. On the line itself is Martin and some young and eager people, all willing to do what is needed. It’s Martin who really runs this show. I had already been told to “watch him”, he holds the key, it seems. First thing Martin said was, “I’ll eat my hat, if you can come up with ‘anything’ to make this line run faster.”
Hmmm… little did Martin’s know… I already had come up with something, though it was very important not to say just yet. …And we don’t want Martin to eat his hat; we want him to come up with the ‘something’ himself. For Martin, who lived and breathed running this line, it was totally illogical there was any improvement possible and it was the machine not running fast enough causing the issue.
Having learned about the Socratic Approach from a training course, you know it is far better to ask people questions so they come up with answers themselves. When ‘they’ think of the solution, it’s theirs…not yours ‘imposed’ on them.
It’s now time to arrange a little meeting with Martin and a couple of his colleagues, no need for the hierarchy to influence things.
First, we do a conceptual warm up exercise and show a picture of a highway with a traffic snarl up on it to get them thinking from different perspectives of the same issue. Then start asking the ‘illogical improvement’ questions: “Where is the bottleneck?” and “How can you tell?”
They get the answers right without prompting. So there is no problem with their fundamental understanding. Now let’s relate it to the problem in hand. “So, where is the bottleneck, exactly?” Answered correctly.
Now the ‘illogical improvement buster’ question for them to realize the solution…“What do you have to do to maximize throughput?”
At that point I shut up and waited. It took about 15 seconds for the team to figure it out.
Eventually Martin replies. “You have to keep it working all the time.”
“Excellent! Exactly correct!”
Together we examine the data recorded in the notebook and in more detail explain the findings. “See here: the critical piece of equipment is idle, and then here again and here and here.” In fact, it was idle more than 25% of the time through the day.
“Oh!?” Martin replied surprised and happy hear, more importantly, he was now open to the how-to’s.
Instead of ‘telling’ them… again I asked a ‘results thinking’ question, so they were able to come up with the solution themselves, even though I already had the solution… “So what do you have to do to get 25% more output in the day?”
Martin replied without delay: “Keep it working”.
Which lead me to the next question for them to ‘results think’ about: “How are you going to do that?”
Martin thought for a minute: “Well, the reason your notes show a temporary stoppage is that I have to stop sometimes to do these other things.”
Again asking the next ‘results thinking’ question: “So, how could you rearrange the work to avoid this?”
“We need an extra person. Is it really that easy?”
“Let’s try it then!”
Then I explained and asked: “The extra person does not need to be recruited: she is already there. We just need to redistribute the work a bit. Agreed? Can you do it now?”
Very pleased they came to the conclusions themselves asking the right questions for them to ‘results think’ I wrapped it up for them to get on with it: “Let’s try it then. I’ll go back to head office now and you will do an extra-large batch tomorrow – ‘30% larger’, in fact. I’ll call you on Monday to find out how you did.”
Monday came and with it the news that Martin has surprised himself and his team. He is ecstatic to admit that he got 30% more output overnight.
That crew went on to sustain the performance. That meant sustaining an extra $15 million of business year on year, without capital or extra revenue expense.
Martin didn’t eat his hat, because through the ‘results thinking process’ he came up with the solution and made the change himself. Martin did admit, few years later, “I really take my hat off to you!”
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James La Trobe-Bateman, Co-Founder & C.E.O.
reMODELInternational.com …Since 1997
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