10 questions to help understand efficiency problems

If Lean manufacturing is initiated with the wrong problems in mind, the problem is exacerbated rather than improved. Here are ten questions aimed at helping uncover the true source of causes.
By Shawn Casemore, AME July 8, 2015

If Lean had been initiated with the wrong problems in mind, it would only have served to exacerbate the problem, not improve it. Here are ten questions aimed at helping you uncover the true source of causes. Courtesy: CFE Media

A business owner recently asked questions about how Lean manufacturing might help his business. During the discussion, he shared that his product line of automotive aftermarket products had grown so significantly that his team was forced to do shorter and shorter production runs to meet rapidly growing demand for each stock keeping unit. He asked how Lean might help his team become more efficient at changeovers in order to reduce downtime and produce consistently high-quality products. After discussing it further and viewing the operation firsthand, it was clear that improving changeover times was not the primary issue that needed to be addressed. Instead, the business owner should be introducing better means to control the flow and management of inventory. 

However, if Lean had been initiated with the wrong problems in mind, it would have exacerbated the problem rather than improve it. In this case, mapping out the changeover process, running kaizen events, and improved the flow and efficiency of the process would have resulted in constant inventory shortages. This would have shut down the line and created even more downtime. When it comes to efficiency, are you looking at the real causes of your efficiency problems, or simply accepting the obvious as the source of all evils?

Questions to ask while assessing efficiency problems

When working to uncover the true source of problems in flow and production, ask these questions while assessing and interviewing those who are involved:

  • What are the input and output processes or steps that influence or impact this process?
  • How do the processes and steps that lead into this process function? Are they effective?
  • What bottlenecks exist within the process now? What do you think is their cause?
  • In what situations do these bottlenecks or delays occur? When are they not occurring?
  • What would you change in this process that would help you be more effective?
  • How else might this process be improved?
  • Why do you think these issues or challenges exist? How long have they been in place?
  • What evidence do you have to support the frequency and impact of these delays or challenges?
  • What else do you think I should look into that would make this process flow more smoothly?
  • Who else involved or affected in this process should I speak to?

What you believe might be the problem often is not and by digging deeper into the process variables, steps and interacting with those involved, you will create a much better understanding of the root causes behind the challenges. This, in turn, provides you with a starting point for your assessment and Lean implementation.

Lean isn’t a popularity contest. You can just take someone else’s word for what the issues are so as to avoid rocking the boat, or you can dig deep to gain a real understanding of the drivers behind the inefficiencies.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. This article originally appeared on AME Target Online Magazine. AME is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Joy Chang, digital project manager, Plant Engineering, jchang@cfemedia.com.