Establishing an accurate, honest, and, where required, critical picture of 'where we are now' in improvement programmes is never easy. However, it is possible to avoid many of the pitfalls by following some basic principles.
This has to be a multi-functional team task. Moreover, because this part of the process requires personnel to be open in identifying issues within their own areas as well as that of colleagues, it has to be well managed by a skilled and trained facilitator. Although the 'picture' can be primarily developed using techniques like brainstorming, the actual current status, should be confirmed by collecting actual performance data, before the group progresses.
The tools and techniques for this activity are numerous. Each has its benefits - but the proviso is that they should only be employed if all team members have been given the correct level of training beforehand.
'Competitor' and 'Strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats' (SWOT) analyses and benchmarking will provide relevant data, but there are other techniques that should be considered. 'Value stream mapping' is an effective tool for establishing the value added and non-value added activities within the whole supply chain, while 'waste walks' and 'process mapping' are good for getting a team to review their workplace and identify the 'classic wastes' and their effect on the performance. By using spaghetti/flow and process sequence charts it is then possibly to identify why wastes occur, and what improvements can be made.
Meanwhile, audits and assessments provide a baseline against known standards, and 'overall equipment effectiveness' (OEE) helps identify the 'six losses': availability - breakdown and start-up; performance - minor stops and slow running; quality - rejects and start-up losses.
Finally, throughout this task there has to be a constant focus on the agreed purpose. If clarification or discussion about this vision needs to take place, the facilitator must let it happen. This is not a sign of failure, but of a good group dynamic, which is constantly, and rightly, challenging 'where we want to be'.
Kevin Bennett is a lecturer with Smallpeice Enterprises
Tel: 01926 336 423