Step Back Process Guidelines

Quick Summary: Process development can easily get off track by well-meaning but misguided activities.

Abstract:

Although the initial goal to establish a process to increase quality or reduce costs may be very noble and sincere, it is easy for the process creation activity to incrementally deviate from the original goal and create a process with significant unintended consequences.  Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence with the news media reporting these situations occurring regularly in government.  Asking and re-asking some fundamental grounding question can help to avoid this situation.

Typically, the impetus to begin to implement a process is to resolve an issue that has surfaced with the existing methods that are being used to perform some defined task.  In smaller companies, the existing method being used may have simply evolved over time with the actual method being passed down or around from one person to another.  Independent of the reason to begin the process creation activity, there are a few well-meaning but misguided steps that can innocently occur.  Below is a list of some of these factors that the process creation team should consider.  They involve stepping back and questioning some of the key assumptions that may have already been made.

  1. Does the primary motive to implement the new process involve avoiding a one-off occurrence that is not likely to happen again or happen only rarely?  If so, does it make sense to spend time and effort to implement a new process when the effort might be better spent on other activities?  Asking this question may be interpreted as compromising the desire for achieving high quality.  However, it is a valid question and should be objectively considered with the decision based on the impacts of the failure versus the limited resources that are usually available.
  2. Is the goal to actually put “checks and balances” in place instead of making fundamental changes to avoid the occurrence of a defect or anomalous operation?  Checks and balances insertion is just a polite way of saying bureaucracy.  Examples include adding “burn in” testing and increased quality assurance testing which are fundamentally designed to find defects and not fix the root causes.
  3. Has someone who is not directly involved in the activity been asked to take an “outsiders” view of the activity and output and have they asked fundamental questions such as “Why are we doing this in the first place?”  This is a variation of the notion that “One cannot see the forest for the trees”.  An example of this situation is when one department or supplier does final output inspection of a product and the recipient performs the exact same test when they receive the product.  Similarly, “reasoning” such as “Because we have always done it this way” can be equally faulty.
  4. Will the new process envisioned be a simple replacement for the existing method or will it be flexible enough to support new requirements such as increased volumes?  The article in this collection “Processes: When to Start” suggested conducting an “add a zero” analysis in which the process had to accommodate a tenfold increase in activity.  This condition could involve accommodating a tenfold increase in volume or a reduction by a factor of ten in the required time to complete the activity.  The new process may not have to accommodate such a dramatic increase but the analysis will identify potential bottlenecks or limits that may need to be addressed or, at least, considered.
  5. Although the article in this collection, “Cycle Time: A Universal Metric”, discussed the general merits of completing tasks in a timely manner, is this a valid concern for the process in question?  At the opposite extreme, perhaps the activity could be used as a “filler” that is performed during otherwise downtime periods between other more important tasks.  For example, could a customer service representative, between calls for service, perform some tasks that are easily started and stopped?
  6. Does the plan to create the process involve cross functional team participation to insure that the views of the “suppliers” and “customers” (inputs and outputs) are adequately represented?  It is easy to fall into the trap that either groups’ requirements in the future will be the same as they have been in the past.  Similarly, these groups may feel that the activity as performed in the past still requires their continued involvement as previously performed when other options are available.
  7. Does the new process plan focus on optimizing the entire process and not on optimizing each individual step?  Although it may seem counterintuitive, optimizing each step may actually not lead to an overall efficient and effective outcome.  As an example, creating work in process inventory may be in the best interest of the overall process.  This could include buying or building components in bulk and using material only when needed and may be advantageous.
  8. Are the assumed constraints truly unalterable constraints or, for sound reasons, could they be eliminated or changed?  Assumed constraints could involve human or capital resources that are available, the time required to perform the activity, the specifications associated with the activity, or even the basic need for the activity.
  9. Similar to the previous issue, is the starting point assumption that the new process should be a re-worked version of the existing method or can innovative approaches be considered?  Probably the first question that needs to be objectively asked and answered involves the need to perform the activity at all.  Referring to the previous example: Why continue to perform incoming inspection when the supplier performed outgoing inspection?  If the logic behind the two inspections involves a lack of confidence, that issues should be addressed and not the optimization of both inspection activities.
  10. Establish clear goals for the process creation activity and review them regularly to avoid “mission creep”? If mission creep has occurred or new issues seem logical pursue, assign them to another group.  This will allow the original team to stay on track, meeting their initial goal, and then stop.  Process development needs to be a bounded activity or it has a high probability of morphing into a new bureaucracy.   

 

Article Number : 6.030506   

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