Satisfying Policy Is a Source of Problems, Part 2

Make an effort to simplify the processes to satisfy policy into exercises that take just a few minutes and your business will be very efficient.

Alan Nicol, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutionsThis is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

By ALAN NICOL, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutions

Let me lay out the complexity of the various processes so we can see it. I leave it to the reader’s imagination to provide some relative perspective of the problem. The policy on top inspires each of the processes subsequent below, each lower one being a byproduct of the one above. This should look familiar to most manufacturers:

   Certification
        Testing and qualification
            Configuration documentation
                Engineering Change process
                    Work order process

To solve the immediate problem and get back into production is simple. We change the work order on the production floor to pull a different part out of supply. However, doing so to satisfy the certification, must trigger a series of corrections and actions that work back up the “waterfall” or process chain.

To document the change to the configuration, the Engineering Change process must be enacted to change the documented configuration to also include the alternate part number. That change must be approved according to the certification regulations, which will require some investigation and report, at the least, to prove that the alternate part number is equally functional and doesn’t alter the performance of the product.

If a business can do each of these steps in a few minutes, then there really is no problem. If like many businesses, the Engineering Change process takes days, the analysis waits for experts to free up time and the research requires numerous phone calls to suppliers for data or information, which turn into messages and waiting and emails and waiting, and then final approvals wait around for managers to read, understand, and finally approve the changes. The waste in time and energy can be substantial.

If the discipline in a business is very high, the above mess will be conducted according to policy, and it will take days or weeks to execute. Morale will be low. If the discipline in a business is low, someone will change a work order and either out of ignorance, spite for inefficiency, or simply out of desire not to participate in such absurd nonsense, will not trigger the Engineering Change process. Morale may or may not be higher, but the risk to the business is great.

So, the key to eliminating both the risk and the pain is to simplify our ability to satisfy the policy. We must try to make it possible to make the necessary change and satisfy policy within just a few minutes. There are many ways to go about it.

  1. We can streamline each step of the “waterfall” so that they can be done in minutes by simplifying red-tape, forms, ensuring immediate access to signature authority, or having easily searchable records of data on interchangeable components.
  2. We can eliminate processes by proactively identifying when they are necessary and when they are not (often with identification of critical components and dimensions on drawings).
  3. We can proactively identify interchangeable components on drawings before they are released, including performance specifications, to facilitate the necessity to accept alternatives in a pinch.

Some sophisticated Enterprise Resource Planning systems or Manufacturing Resource Planning systems can automate much of the process, automatically triggering the Engineering Change process and paging cell phones or instant message boards for signature authority.

These make just a short handful of strategies. We can do them all if we choose. The goal, regardless of the method, is to make it so simple to satisfy policy that such can be done in a few minutes. Not only does this solve the types of problems described in the example above, it makes everyday processes much simpler and more efficient. If we can rectify an emergency in just a few minutes, then we can satisfy the policy every time, every day, in just a few minutes also. Congratulations, business just got a lot easier and more efficient, and morale is up too.

Don’t get me wrong; we should also proactively prevent the emergencies like five weeks without a supply of critical components. That discipline is not in dispute. I only want to point out and provide an explanation that our policies make great places to focus the magnifying glass we use to identify waste.

The many business and process improvement methodologies out there have various ways of identifying and attacking inefficiency. In addition to the ones you are already using, examine your means of satisfying policy, any and all policies. If they are time-consuming and painful, they are wasteful. Make an effort to simplify the processes to satisfy policy into exercises that take just a few minutes and your business will be very efficient. It’s not a guarded secret or great mystery. It’s just an easy place to look for waste.

Stay wise, friends.

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