The continuous improvement philosophy can be implemented within one company in various ways. It can be done using a pilot or big bang approach; it can have more characteristics of lean, six sigma or a mixture of continuous improvement (CI) tools; it can be done with experienced consultants or more “in-house”.
But one thing in common within all implementations is that there will be conflicts between Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement (CI) professionals at the beginning of the process. Here, we will focus on Production, Maintenance and CI managers, though it’s worth remembering each team/role (e.g. site manager, site director, IT, human resources, accounting) will have a different impression of the implementation.
The continuous improvement philosophy is the way to go forward. But sometimes, I feel that the Maintenance and Continuous Improvement teams are not in the same boat as I am. For example, mid-week, we had a problem in Production; they didn’t understand how serious it was and the impact it could have had on production efficiency.
The problem happened because the steam flowmeter started to vary without apparent cause and directly affected the stability of the dryer operation. Consequently, there was an unnecessary increase in steam addition (which is a principle cost driver for the site) and a potential risk of producing solids out of our specification.
In the morning, we called the Maintenance team and informed them that we needed urgent maintenance on the steam flowmeter. The situation was stressful and consumed a lot of energy and time to convince them to carry out the maintenance activity. My impression is that the Maintenance Manager only cares about Maintenance KPIs (key performance indicators). He cannot grasp the priorities for Production in the same way.
And in the middle of this argument about Maintenance fixing or not fixing the flowmeter, the CI Manager called and outlined the following gripes:
The continuous improvement philosophy is the way to go forward. But sometimes, I feel that production and continuous improvement teams are not in the same boat as I am. This week there was a vital schedule breaker that was not a priority. Production is used to calling us with all different kinds of “urgent” work that is not important. Everything is a priority for Production, and they don’t let us do our work.
We had to cancel one preventive maintenance activity and one CI activity for the day to fix the steam flowmeter. I tried to explain it to the Production team, but they didn’t listen. The dryer, as I know, is not a piece of critical equipment, and this change in the work schedule will require overtime for the maintenance team, impacting two maintenance KPIs: schedule breakers and overtime of the maintenance team. The schedule breakers can be tracked in the Maintenance software, and the overtime can be followed on our whiteboard in the maintenance workshop. Is it so hard for Production to understand this?
Besides for this, since the work in the steam flowmeter was not planned, it takes a lot of time to prepare all the paperwork, especially the work permits, tools and material needed from the warehouse. Even then, when the team arrived at the plant, the equipment was not ready yet for maintenance. It seems that the operators were preparing filling information in a separate OEE tool instead of preparing the piece of equipment for maintenance. I have an impression that the Production Manager only cares about production KPIs. He cannot understand that Maintenance also has priorities.
Having to change our priorities at last minute to manage the issue with the production team, we had been called by the CI Manager. She complained that no one from the Maintenance team went to the RCA (root cause analysis) session scheduled to discuss an issue which occurred the week before. Can’t she understand that we had scheduled a worker for the session, but Production had ruined our schedule? Besides that, the problem from the week before is almost solved, and everybody knows what must be done to fix it. We had already solved it several times. All she wants is to follow the CI schedule and deliver her tasks, she does not seem to care about our efforts to keep the plant running.
The continuous improvement philosophy is the way to go forward. But sometimes, I feel that the Maintenance and Production teams are not in the same boat as I am and are very resistant. I’m trying hard to implement a CI culture in the teams. Still, it seems they have not understood that discipline is critical: following work processes and keeping the routine is essential to creating a more predictable and organised environment, where there is time set-aside for looking at opportunities and resolving problems.
Production and Maintenance managers discuss priorities daily and do not look at the plant as a whole. We must improve transparency on what we want to achieve as a site. Today the site whiteboard is very high level, and it can be challenging to see the connection between financial site numbers and everyday work and KPIs from different teams; maybe having OKRs (objectives and key results) would make more sense. On top of that, the whiteboard is not accessible to everybody. Having an accessible site whiteboard where we can see the site priorities and deliverables as one whole plant can help everyone see the big picture and work as a single team. This needs contributions from the different groups to build a planned result. It would then also be possible for all to see the conflicts and have an open environment where we can discuss amongst ourselves and with the site director what is most important for the plant so common priorities can be quickly established. Having one version of the truth is crucial: we get clarity on priorities, and management support is facilitated.
We must also remember that the KPIs work for us, not the opposite. But it may be my fault for building this impression that we all need to deliver KPIs and generate reports. I need to spend more time in Gemba and better understand the difficulties of the Production and Maintenance teams. We need an evaluation of the different tools we are using today: we are wasting time, and there is a misalignment among the groups in the plant. Each team looks at various reports and creates different priorities, which are hard to follow.
I can also help the production team better understand the OEE concept and see the difficulties filling in the losses. Maybe we can discuss and revise the loss categorisation. It can make the process easier and more valuable for them.
Another thing we need to focus on is root cause problem-solving – where we can identify and resolve problems in their entirety and look for improvements and deliver them. But we must pause, go to Gemba, look at the problem together as a multidisciplinary team and listen to people. With this information together with data, we can analyse and solve issues, creating time to plan, do, check and act instead of just reacting.
It is essential to realise that no one is right or wrong, but each one looks at the issues from different perspectives and always works to deliver the best according to their experience.
Conflicts can be expected to occur considering all teams and tasks that need to be done in a manufacturing site. But the work processes can constantly be improved, and teams must work together to find a solution and correct prioritisation, supported by top management.
Becoming more mature in terms of collaboration takes time and effort and requires a structured approach. A proven solution is to use a hybrid approach:
In our next article, we will explore a simple tool and direct way to start changing the manufacturing culture to a continuous improvement mindset: visual management.