Satisfying Policy Is a Source of Problems, Part 1

One phrase that I often repeat is, “Policy begets waste.” It’s true that I am one of those personalities that prefers to rely on the better judgment of people than on a big book of rules to ensure the right thing is done.

Alan Nicol, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutionsBy ALAN NICOL, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutions

One phrase that I often repeat is, “Policy begets waste.” It’s true that I am one of those personalities that prefers to rely on the better judgment of people than on a big book of rules to ensure the right thing is done. That is a preference, not factual operational truth.

Regardless of our preferences, we can’t always avoid policy. Sometimes it is desired, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Regardless of our preferences, I have also observed that much of the waste and run-around that we create for ourselves occurs when we find ourselves faced with satisfying or, more often, trying to prove that we have satisfied policy.

Perhaps the reader will also observe that the work we find least gratifying, most wasteful, and most often circumvented because of the previous two, is the work we do to document or otherwise prove that we have satisfied some rule. It goes further than just being an annoying process, it often negatively affects morale, especially when personnel try to avoid it and leaders are forced to “bird dog” the process to ensure the rules are followed. Personnel and leaders alike despise such activity.

Thus, the phenomenon becomes an obvious opportunity for us to quickly and relatively easily improve our business performance and morale, which easily addressed with Lean, Six Sigma, or any number of improvement methodologies. We don’t need to be experts in those methods to attack and eliminate problems and waste associated with policy.

To solve various problems, we only need to simplify the means by which we satisfy policy. The easier it is the fewer problems we will have.

I’ve already stated that my favorite method for simplifying the policy challenge is to eliminate the policy. That philosophy doesn’t suit everyone, and it isn’t always practical. Some policies are necessary for us to operate in our chosen industry.

Let’s look at a real example of how policy and problems relate.

A manufacturer of products here in the U.S. must certify its product according to national and international regulations in order to sell it. Naturally, significant testing and analysis is performed on the product to achieve the certification. In addition, stringent quality control is necessary to ensure that the configuration of the product does not vary in any way that would violate the certification. This alone should be enough for us to imagine the processes inspired to satisfy policy. In this case, certification.

Now, enter a problem. The business has a shortage of a particular fastener, a screw, which is called out in the product’s configuration. Lead-time for getting more of the screw into the supply is five weeks. (If you are picking your jaw up off of your desk, I had a similar reaction) It is obviously intolerable, for everyone involved, to allow a shortage of screws to hold up production for five weeks.

Lean, Six Sigma, and common sense all dictate that we should look into the root cause of why we find ourselves in a situation where a fastener is five weeks out of supply and holding up production in the first place. Yes, we should do this, but that is not the problem that needs to be solved in a single day or a single hour. The problem to solve at the moment is how to complete production of the product right now.

We are not going to hold up production for five weeks because of a screw, especially when we have another one in-hand that will do the job. We can be in production in a matter of minutes if we just change the work order to use a different screw, “different” meaning it may be the same or similar in every functional way except for the part number. The solution isn’t that hard, except for the policy.

If the product uses a different part number, then technically, the configuration is changed. How do we go about documenting the configuration? What testing or analysis is required to prove that the new configuration also meets the certification requirement? If the fastener merely attaches an aesthetic element, it may not be too difficult. In this real example, the screw attaches a significant safety feature. It’s structurally critical and very important to the certification of the product. An undocumented configuration change could cause substantial unpleasantness with authorities or customers and could jeopardize the business.

Doing the work to satisfy the certification qualification and documenting it, involves a large number of experts, authorizations, and signatures, and cannot be done in just a few minutes. Thus, we have a screw and a policy working hand-in-hand to create a great deal of waste for this business. If this kind of thing happens only once in a great while, we might not worry too much about it. However, I have witnessed that while the specific example described might not happen every day, people doing extra work or circumventing inglorious work because of policy, has happened many times on a daily basis in a typical business. I’ll bet the reader has too.

Please tune into tomorrow’s Chemical Equipment Daily for part two of this two-part piece. What’s your take? Please feel free to comment below!


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