Start Process Improvement by Getting the Facts – A Case Study

February 27, 2017
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I am often called upon by clients to help them improve one or more of their business processes. Though the industries vary and the processes are different, when asked to help improve a process I always start in the same place. What are the facts; how do we get the facts?

In the case at hand, a client asked me to help them improve their internal deliveries, that is deliveries from component and sub assembly plants to the final assembly plants. This company is very vertically integrated and these internal deliveries are critical to business success. Senior management was being told the internal delivery performance was impacting deliveries to customers. They had no hard evidence to support or dispute the complaint, so they asked for help.

I started by asking for the facts. My first question was, “What metrics are in place and how do they look?” The answer surprised me. While this company had very good metrics for on time delivery to customers, and good metrics for on time delivery from outside suppliers, they had no metrics for on time delivery from the feeder plants. The first step seemed simple, develop and publish a measure of on time delivery. But that is often easier said than done. Designing new metric from scratch is not easy. To ensure we had buy in to whatever metric we developed, we got the key players together from both feeder plants and final assembly plants. Everyone agreed that a measure of internal on time delivery was a good idea. What was in that measure though took some negotiating. In the end, we agreed to two specific metrics: on time release of internal orders, and on time shipments to final assembly plants. With the metrics decided and defined, we started getting the facts.

After several weeks of tracking, a pattern became clear, all the feeder plants were indeed not performing in an acceptable manner.  The facts showed several of the plants were both releasing the internal orders late and delivering them late. The next step was to identify why the problem existed. The team brainstormed a list of root causes, which became our list of issues to be addressed. We prioritized the list and started to put corrective actions in place.

The improvement effort is ongoing. Every week we get together, review the facts as represented by the metrics, and each plant explains the trend the facts are showing. The corrective actions are taking some time to take effect across all the plants so we have not gotten instant improvement in the numbers, but the numbers are starting to look better. There are some ups and downs in the numbers but the overall trend is moving in the desired direction.

The process improvements are only possible because we started with a clear set of facts. The facts confirmed there was a problem and made it easy to get everyone to agree that something had to change. The ongoing review of the facts serves to keep us aligned on which corrective actions are effective in improving the process, and which are not effective pointing out that we need to try something else.

If you have processes that needs improving, I suggest you start by getting the facts. Understand what metrics are in place and what they are telling you. Use the facts to keep people aligned and motivated on the effort required to make improvements.

 

If you would like help improving your processes, email the ACA Group or call us at 626-836-6261

Doug Howardell is a consultant who specializes in helping clients improve their business practices and processes. During the past twenty-five years, he has designed new processes and tools, selected and implemented new business systems, and managed business process improvement projects. Contact Doug at DH@TheACAgroup.com

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