The idea of continuous process has been part of the business landscape in one form or another since the beginning of time. The leaders of the Total Quality Movement of the late 1980s, such as Juran, Deming and Crosby, certainly hammered the need for continuous change home as US business refocused on product quality. Unfortunately in many cases, the message suffered from two interpretation problems. The first was that process improvement was implemented as a focus on controlling and reducing costs, rather than on increasing process throughput. Secondly, many process improvement programs focused on the one big change rather than finding a generalized process that could continuously generate improvement. Finding and implementing a repeatable process requires culture change and long-term thinking, which are hard to implement. Paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming, we will need constancy of purpose to make continuous process improvement payoff, but with that constancy of purpose we won’t need a single overwhelming change. Alex and his team are recognizing that finding a generalized, repeatable process is not easy.
Chapter 35. Alex and his team reconvene thier meeting to discover the answer to question “What are the techniques needed for management?” The team spends the time trying to determine how to reveal the the essential steps that are needed to make change happen in a repeatable fashion. Goldblatt describes this concept as the “intrinsic order.” This chapter reflects a struggle to find a generalized order or approach that can be used as management structure changes in the plant or to generate change in the other plants that will be reporting to Alex. The meeting ends in frustration but with an agreement to try again the next day.
Chapter 36. Stacey, the material manager, reframes the conversation by asking, “What is our goal as a manager?” In the past the managers had been charged with generating ongoing process improvements. Organizationally, formal process improvement projects were focused on reducing operating expenses, whereas Johan had led Alex and his team to change their focus to throughput. Reducing operating expense went from the most important goal to a distant third place behind throughput and inventory control. This refocusing was tied directly to the goal of increasing profit by increasing plant revenue.
By refocusing the discussion on the goal of process improvement in the plant, the team is able to find a generalized process. It is:
- Find the bottleneck in the flow of work.
- Decide how to “exploit” the bottleneck (make sure you maximize the flow through the bottleneck).
- Subordinate every other step to the bottleneck (only do the work the bottleneck can accommodate).
- Elevate the bottleneck (increase the capacity of the bottleneck).
- If the bottleneck has been broken repeat the process (a bottleneck is broken when the step has excess capacity).
As a test, Alex and his team cycle through the changes they made. Each change Alex and his team made to the flow of work, changed the nature of the bottleneck, which meant that the team had to cycle through the process again and again to continue to generate improvements. Each change Alex and his team had made used the same process which proved that had found a repeatable process to generate continuous process improvement. Before the team breaks up, it is suggested that the word bottleneck can be re-stated as constraint. A constraint a slightly broader concept and represents an obstacle to an organization achieving its goal whereas a bottleneck refers to a resource with capacity equal or less than the demand placed on it. In this context not having enough sales orders to maximize the flow through plant would represent a constraint not a bottleneck.
Re-Read Saturday Notes:
- I anticipate that the re-read of The Goal will conclude in three weeks with part 18. Our next book will be The Mythical Man-Month (if you do not have a copy . . . get a copy today).
- Remember that the summary of previous entries in the re-read of The Goalhave been shifted to a new page (here).
- Also, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one. If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Versionor Kindle Version