This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
While waiting for a business colleague one day, I fell into conversation with the manager of the Mexican restaurant where we were meeting. Cordial and talkative, the manager beamed ear-to-ear with pride as he recounted his recent promotion from kitchen manager.
Being a manufacturing process consultant, I asked about the difference in managing a process-focused area (the kitchen in back) versus a customer-focused area (front of restaurant). As a “people person” he said while he preferred the front of restaurant, many opportunities came out of improving the processes behind the scenes.
Little Processes Can Make Big Differences
While managing the kitchen staff, he noticed no process for the plating of meals. Sometimes the beans were set on the plate from 2 o’clock to 5 o’clock, or they could be situated from “9 o’clock to 12 o’clock,” referring to the plate as one would the face of a clock.
When asking the kitchen crew, he was told, “that’s just how we do it”. A lack of such a small process may seem like no big deal, but patrons notice when they order the same meal and two plates come out looking very different. “It was never the same and customers weren’t happy.”
You Can Always Achieve Better Results
When faced with recurring quality problems, start by looking at existing process and quality standards. There could be many reasons a weld is in the wrong position, a component is missing, the incorrect part is assembled or the wrong quantity was shipped.
Before placing the blame on the worker for the surface cause, consider the underlying root cause and management’s ability to improve the process.
While quick investigation may identify a specific cause such as tool wear or stocking mishaps, systemic reasons for poor performance usually fall into one of three categories:
- No standard was set for how to perform the work, set up the machine, etc.
- The standard set is incorrect or is not optimal
- The standard wasn’t followed
By addressing the relevant systemic issues, you, your workforce and your customers will all benefit from better results.
Fixing Processes? Start by Asking Your Team!
Process is easy to learn, but hard to perfect. Manufacturers constantly struggle to make everything work right the first time. Poorly optimized parameters lead to scrap (e.g. leaks, flash, poor welds, test failures, etc.) and costly customer issues while impacting the reputation and competitiveness of the business.
In this sense, running a restaurant and running a manufacturing facility aren’t so different — for both, reliable processes can be the key to success. Borrow the advice from the restaurant manager: when a standard is not set, establish one. When a process is not working out well, study the problem, ask questions and improve it.
Your workforce probably has some great ideas to help — they work the floor every day and deal with existing processes. Ask experienced workers for input into where weaknesses in process exist and connect with newer workers for a fresh perspective. Improvements are not always easy, but they are always possible.
By looking at problems in a new light, you might find setting new standards will improve the outcome and your company will enjoy the resulting success. 6