Incorporating the philosophy of continuous improvement into a company’s operations can be achieved through various methods. For example, pilot projects or adopting a big bang approach. These strategies may encompass Lean, Six Sigma, or a blend of continuous improvement tools. Often they can involve external consultants or internal experts.
However, one common challenge in all these implementations is the potential for conflicts between Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement (CI) professionals. This occurs especially during the initial stages.
In this article, we will explore the perspectives of Production, Maintenance, and CI managers. (It’s worth noting that each team or role may have distinct views on the implementation process.)
Continuous improvement is undoubtedly the way forward, but there are times when it seems that the Maintenance and Continuous Improvement teams are not fully aligned with the Production team. For instance, when we encountered a problem mid-week in Production, it was challenging to convey the seriousness of the issue and its potential impact on production efficiency to the other teams.
The problem arose when the steam flowmeter started fluctuating inexplicably, directly affecting the dryer’s stability, and leading to an unnecessary increase in steam consumption, a major cost driver. Furthermore, there was a risk of producing products outside our specifications.
We urgently called the Maintenance team in the morning to address the issue but convincing them to act swiftly was a struggle. The Maintenance Manager was solely focused on Maintenance KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), which made it difficult for them to grasp the Production team’s priorities.
Amid this dispute, the CI Manager voiced her concerns, citing the absence of Production team members at a root cause analysis (RCA) session scheduled for an issue from the previous week. However, it was challenging for us to attend such sessions due to our round-the-clock production commitments. The Production team continually faces the pressure of ensuring the production line runs smoothly and dealing with customer complaints. The CI Manager, on the other hand, seemed determined to adhere to their CI schedule, regardless of real-world operational challenges.
The CI manager also pointed out that the production operators were not accurately documenting production losses, affecting Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) calculations and Pareto loss charts. Yet, for us, expecting operators to juggle multiple data entries in different tools was unrealistic and time-consuming. Streamlining these processes could save valuable time.
While continuous improvement is crucial, it’s sometimes frustrating to feel that the Production and Continuous Improvement teams do not fully comprehend our perspective. This week, a non-priority issue became a schedule breaker for Maintenance. Production frequently labels work as “urgent” when it’s not genuinely critical. Everything is a priority for them, hindering our ability to plan, schedule and execute our tasks effectively.
To address the steam flowmeter problem, we had to cancel a preventive maintenance activity and a CI initiative for the day. This change in our work schedule meant our maintenance team had to work overtime. This impacted two vital Maintenance KPIs: schedule breakers and overtime. Explaining this to the Production team was then met with resistance.
In addition, unplanned maintenance work requires significant time to prepare paperwork. Such as risk analysis and work permits, and preparation of tools and materials from the warehouse. Unfortunately, when our team arrived at the plant, the equipment wasn’t ready for maintenance due to the operators focusing on OEE data entry. This situation reinforced our belief that the Production Manager primarily prioritises production KPIs.
Moreover, we had to adapt to changing priorities on short notice, and during this time, the CI Manager contacted us, expressing frustration that none of our team members attended an RCA session scheduled for an issue from the previous week. However, it was Production’s disruption of our schedule that blocked our attendance. This issue from the previous week was nearly resolved, and everyone knew the necessary steps to fix it. The CI Manager appeared solely focused on adhering to their CI schedule without considering the challenges we face in maintaining plant operations.
While the continuous improvement philosophy is unquestionably the way forward, it can be challenging to get the Maintenance and Production teams on the same page. There is resistance, and I’m working diligently to instil a CI culture in these teams, emphasizing the importance of discipline, the use of data and adherence to work processes for a more predictable and organised environment. Without stability, we cannot improve.
One issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of transparency in our site’s objectives and key results (OKRs). The current site whiteboard is high-level and doesn’t effectively connect financial site numbers to daily work and various team KPIs. Having an accessible site whiteboard that outlines site priorities and deliverables can foster better collaboration and a shared understanding of what’s essential for the plant.
It’s essential to recognise that KPIs should work for us and not the other way around. I may have inadvertently created the impression that our sole focus is delivering KPIs and generating reports. To bridge the gap, I need to spend more time in Gemba (the workplace) to better understand the Production and Maintenance teams’ challenges. Evaluating the tools in use today can uncover misalignments among different groups in the plant and enable a more streamlined approach.
Additionally, I can help the Production team grasp the concept of OEE and simplify the process of documenting losses. By discussing and revising loss categorisation, we can make this process more manageable and valuable.
Another critical aspect is root-cause problem-solving. We should collaboratively identify and resolve problems comprehensively, involving a multidisciplinary team of workers who perform the work, and focusing on data and Gemba observations. This approach will create time for proactive planning and actions instead of mere reactions.
Based on all these observations, it seems our manufacturing staff is wasting a lot of time and effort with non-added value tasks. Having a digital manufacturing platform can be valuable to increase efficiency and remove waste from the workplace.
it’s crucial to acknowledge that there is no absolute right or wrong in these situations. Each team brings a unique perspective and strives to deliver the best results based on their experiences. Conflicts are inevitable in a manufacturing environment, but they also present opportunities for improvement. Working together to find solutions and prioritise effectively, with the support of top management, is key to success.
Achieving alignment and collaboration between Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement teams takes time and effort. A hybrid approach can prove effective:
Top management must provide support, align with the process, practice Gemba walks and communicate expectations clearly throughout the organisation.
Change behaviour at the operational level by implementing new working methods and using practical, interconnected tools. Visual management and Gemba walks can help make the new approach feel more accessible and beneficial, enabling and empowering people and gradually fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
By implementing this hybrid approach, organisations can harmonise their teams, enhance operational efficiency and sustainability, and work towards achieving common priorities.
Bridging the gap between Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement is a crucial step in the journey toward organisational success. By understanding and addressing the perspectives of these teams and implementing effective strategies and tools, organisations can harmonise their efforts, enhance collaboration, and drive sustainability and operational efficiency, creating a culture of continuous improvement. The path to consensus may be challenging, but it’s essential for achieving long-term success in today’s competitive landscape.