Sometimes when we start investigating issues related to rework and scrap on the shop floor we discover the real root cause originates in the office before production gets the order. A forward-thinking printing company wanted to kill-off one of their biggest profit drains – reprinting jobs. This company discovered that at least 50% of reprints (reworking is usually impossible once you have ink laid-down) were traceable to issues in the front office. But their problem was this: exactly where in the front office are the mistakes originating? Everyone had their hypothesis and the finger pointing from days past was recognized as an unacceptable approach. In addition, the company has the objective of reducing lead times – recognizing that too much time was pre-production – led to part of the improvement team’s charter. In this first of a two-part series of articles I will describe how the process improvement team went about documenting the current state of their process – and driving future improvements to speed and quality.
The company elected to form a cross-functional team and committed to finding all the sources of problems from the time the phone rings, to taking a new order up, to the time the art department got the final inputs, to creating the materials that manufacturing would use, to producing the orders. The team included the supervisor of the off-set printing and die cutting departments, the manager of sales, a representative from order entry, an operator from the screen printing department, a member from accounting and a production artist.
Because this company had already completed training for all employees in Lean Six Sigma techniques, they started with a round of brainstorming to create an initial hypothesis about the issues that needed to be improved upon, in tandem with reducing errors. The list included:
If any of these problems sound like what happens in your organization – you are not alone. My experience in hundreds of businesses of all types is that we tend to shy away from using Lean Six Sigma techniques in office settings because we are not “making something” – a product. This paradigm is just plain wrong – as this team was able to prove.
As is the case in all office processes there were no measures of the process in place to work from as a baseline. What the team did was construct a type of tally sheet that listed all the typical process steps for processing orders. These were generated at the initial phone call and “rode along with” the orders during their entire life-cycle into the art department. Over a two-week period, they tracked and captured:
The team reviewed this information and came up with a method to convert it into a usable form. All the order tracking documents were decomposed into the data needed and combined into a single worksheet/chart. From this they were able to determine:
The team realized that their cycle efficiency for the process was very poor and that taking time out of the process was important to satisfy the company’s ongoing objective to reduce lead time. The team created a VSM to provide a visualization of the workflow with this data and drew-in the rework loops as seen here:
Armed with all this information, a number of people were asked to participate in brain-storming ideas to improve the process. Some ideas developed and selected for quick implementation included:
The team then established their initial goals and objectives for their improvement project as:
A detailed action plan was developed with clear accountability and deadlines for action. In the second of this two-part series of articles, I will detail an important implementation effort of this team – finding and attacking the root causes for mistakes in this process – one of the main charters of the team being an objective to reduce re-prints in manufacturing.
In their initial VSM effort, they highlighted where they thought the errors were occurring – but had to rely on anecdotal information to create hypotheses. It was agreed that much more quantifiable data was needed so that the true root causes could be isolated for corrective actions with the right process metrics. After some brainstorming, they decided to set up a data collection method to capture root cause information for each order that was returned from any downstream step for corrections.
A spreadsheet was created to tabulate the following information for each return for corrections:
Over a two-month period, 137 observations were added to the worksheet from which the team was able to perform some initial Pareto analysis (this is also known as the 80-20 rule, or the maxim that 20% of causes account for 80% of the effects).
Uncovering true root causes is the mission in this kind of improvement project. The team took great pains to make sure that everyone involved in the data collection understood this was not a witch hunt. To avoid bias in collecting the information the team members took the time to examine each reported incident carefully and perform a root cause investigation within 24 to 48 hours before the annotations were finalized in the spreadsheet. People who participated were thanked and those who assisted were singled-out for a special “thanks” from management.
They tracked the error rate on new orders entered over the two-month period and determined their “first time right” rate as 71%. Their short-term objective was to improve this by one-third – or move it to at least 80% right in the first 60 days after implementing countermeasures.
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