Why Does a Manufacturing Plant need an Outside Resource to Facilitate Change? *A short summary*

Most manufacturing plants:

Have hired a talented staff,
Have put together a materials strategy,
Have a great communication conduit with sales and the marketplace,
Have an established and operating prototype system that satisfies the customers,
Have an established high-end quality system in place,
Have a master scheduling system and ERP that respond to customer demand,
Have a customer service group that effectively communicates to clients,
Have reasonable on-time deliveries.
But, perhaps all of these items, while at a high level, working well in isolation, do not always work well together? Perhaps any possible “silos” that exist are affecting OTD, or QC – so that they are not at the level required for existing or new customers?

There are many instances where outsiders come to a plant and tell the plant staff about something they see, which the plant staff did not see. It’s the “not seeing the forest for the trees” syndrome. When people are in a certain environment for a long time (INCLUDING internal staff Continuous Improvement personnel), aberrations in systems, processes, and organization sometimes occur over time – invisibly to those accustomed to seeing the situation every day.

Many of these fall-downs can affect OTD, QC, employee morale, bottom-line profits, and, above all, safety.

Make sure that the following points/initiatives are included in the initial interview with any outside resource. If any are missing, BEWARE!

A high-end quality consultant:

Can gauge culture in the office and in the plant with no pre-conceived ideas or emotions. THIS is the very first thing you should ask any possible consultant – about their experience with evaluating culture, with culture change, and methods of change management.
Along with cultural awareness, will have a specific plan about how to involve personnel at all levels of the organization – from the top to the bottom – in all phases of planning and implementation. If the resource does not enumerate a plan for this, it is most likely because she/he is an “office” consultant, and doesn’t “get her/his fingers dirty” much. Involvement by all levels in a plant is paramount, and without it, people will assume that the plan “came from on high” and is just someone’s idea of a panacea, rather than a plan that will work long-term.
Will have a quick and clear view of plant staff capabilities, background, and overall experience. The level of the staff should be considered in the engagement frequency of any outside resource – the better the staff, the less time of the consultant you will need. It may be no more than minimal guidance. But if you have not seen a person DO something, assume that they probably “do not know what they do not know.” Also, Leadership must understand the ability of the staff to Lead versus Manage. Pure management alone will not succeed in this environment.
Has no view of history – and WILL see the forest and the trees. The problems in the plant become obvious to her/him during the first plant walk-thru. Usually these problems can be seen and identified by a competent practitioner in 30 minutes to an hour. Look up HBR’s “Read a Plant Fast” article for reference on how the “best of the best” perform these evaluations in such a short time
Has no “ax to grind” with any of the staff, and can / should be allowed to critique plant operations to the staff without any blame or negative insinuation. There will come a time, in a good planning process, where individuals will be held accountable by the consultant and the lead executive on-site – but again without specific blame for the past.
Has experience with Lean and Six Sigma, as well as MRP and ERP processes. About 10-15 years ago there was an abundance of articles that said Lean and Six Sigma could not co-exist – it had to be one or the other. However, if a plant is looking to reduce variation in the process (Six Sigma) and to eliminate waste (Lean) at the same time (which is the common thread in plant turnarounds), both sets of skills are required.
Will NOT put a plan together that has Kaizen event after Kaizen event as its sole methodology for improvement. The first part of any worthwhile change is to understand the business, the business strategy, and concentrate on the “big picture.” Is the objective inventory reduction, overall productivity improvement, product velocity, lead-times, or another goal?
As stated by Taichi Ohno: “All we are doing is looking at the timeline, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point we collect the cash. And we are reducing the timeline by reducing wastes.”

These overall business elements (NOT just production equipment and workers) MUST be the first focus for any consultant who understands the end game – and they should be BIG and be consistently communicated to the entire workforce. Efforts focused on Big Picture Business Strategy will be hard to “undo” in the longer term, forcing automatic sustainability of efforts. Kaizen events must be used as follow-up processes to have the actual working members of the area fine-tune the plan. But, the alternative to establishing “BAG’s” (Big Audacious Goals) is to allow the “flavor of the month” mentality to set in.

I realize that some of these ideals are NOT the way many consultants approach Lean and Six Sigma in any plant. Perhaps their flawed approach is the reason that out of every 100 entities in the US that enter into such improvement efforts, fewer than 5 succeed. The efforts look good for some time, please the executives, but do not show up in the financials. Each effort should be guided by the mantra of “if the controller can’t measure it, it is not worth doing.”

5S is one example of this mantra not being followed. If 5S can change the culture, can decrease set-up time, or help reliability, make sure that it is included in the improvement process. But 5S for 5S sake rarely hits the bottom line at all. The controller cannot measure it!

Again, plan for the BAG’s that need to be accomplished. Do not limit your thinking to “what the budget can handle.” Let the payback speak for itself as the plan is put together.

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