Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quality Process and Quality Results

How do we assure that our customers receive the highest possible quality in our products?  The first thing that comes to many people’s minds is that we need to have plenty of inspection.  Defective products will get made and we need to catch them before they get to the customer.
Unfortunately, inspection (as well as various kinds of testing) does not catch every defect. No inspection process catches every defect.  Many let 20%, 30% and more escape.  Inspections can also catch products that turn out not to be defective.
In workshops, we demonstrate the unreliability of inspection by having each participant independently count the number of a certain letter (for example, “e”) that can be found in a text. All counters do not come up with the same number. If the letter were a defect, some would not be caught in the inspection process.
Inspection does not add value.  It only catches some of the defective products and leads us to other work that does not add value either, but does add cost.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Two Extremes

There are two extreme types of organization.  Most lie somewhere between the extremes.  At one end we have the World Class organization.  At the opposite end we have the Fire-fighting organization.
The obvious difference between the extremes is how smoothly they appear to run.  The World Class organization has few crises.  Things seem to run smoothly.  Problems arise, but they are quickly contained and soon prevented from happening again. 
The Fire-fighting organization is continuously fighting fires, rushing from one crisis to the next.  The same problems recur. Prevention is poor.  The World Class organization has a calm, laid-back feel to it.  The Fire-fighting organization has a frantic feel.
There are some less obvious characteristics that distinguish the two extremes.   In Fire- fighting organizations there is a lot of blaming.  Any problem will lead to fixing blame, or to wanting to fix blame.  In the World Class organization rather than asking who is to blame, we want to know what happened.  Sometimes the blaming or the desire to fix blame is personal.  It will also be focused on functions.  Production blames maintenance for not maintaining or fixing equipment.  Maintenance blames production for misusing the equipment and breaking it.  Production blames the quality organization for interfering with their ability to meet production goals.  Quality blames production for making “garbage.”  There is always someone else who bears the brunt of the responsibility. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Not Manufacture in Easy Batches?

During a workshop, a manager resisted the idea that batches are always to be avoided if possible.  He used the example of paying his bills by check (this was before the days of online bill-paying). It was easiest for him, he said, to sit down at the kitchen table, open all the bills and take them out, write all the checks, stuff all the envelopes, put stamps on all the envelopes and drop them in the mail.
I asked the group if there was anyone present who had ever sent the wrong check to a payee.  A couple of people admitted that it had happened to them.
If you practice one-piece-flow, processing one unit at a time – in this case one bill—you practically eliminate that particular mistake.  You open one envelope, read the bill, write the check, put it in the envelope with the bill stub, seal the envelope and put a stamp on it.  If you wait to put stamps on the envelopes until all have been sealed and stacked, there is more of a chance of skipping an envelope and mailing it without a stamp.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Performance Appraisal, Merit Pay, Bonuses

For most of my career I have worked as a consultant or contractor, not as an employee.  When I worked as an employee I sometimes had to go through a performance appraisal or evaluation to determine my merit increases in pay.  On one of these occasions, I received an evaluation that was toward the low end of the scale.  If I recall I got an overall 2 on a 7-point scale. 
My boss at the time said that my separation and impending divorce had made my performance suffer.  I knew that he had to force all the six or eight who reported to him to a curve, and he had a difficult job because he had selected and developed a team of very effective people in his organization. We had different talents, but we were all professional and dedicated to our work and often called on each other for help in areas in which we knew our colleagues had greater strengths.
I suspected that he seized on my up-coming divorce as an excuse, because someone had to be at the lower end.  I felt resentment against my boss and my colleagues, even though I understood that my boss was caught in an appraisal process that was not of his making. I am not sure if this caused me to be less of a team player, but I do recall the feeling.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Takt Time

One of the concepts used by companies that are moving toward leaner operations is takt time.  It is also a concept that is often misunderstood in companies that have had a little exposure to lean processes and have picked up the term.
Takt time is the beat at which we should make a product or component to be in synch with the needs of the customer. The customer may be an internal customer such as a downstream process, or it may be an external customer, a dealer or an end user. Takt is a German word for beat when the subject is music.  The baton used by a band or orchestra leader is called a taktstock.
Let us suppose that a customer of any type needs 900 units, widgets of some kind.  The factory works an 8-hour shift, but a half hour a day goes into breaks and other planned downtime, leaving 7.5 available hours.  Seven and a half hours times 60 minutes, times 60 seconds, equals 27,000 seconds of available time in a shift.  If we divide 27,000 seconds into 900 units, we find that our takt time is 30 seconds per unit.  To be perfectly synchronized with the customers requirements for a day, we need to produce one widget every 30 seconds and each operation in the process should take exactly 30 seconds.