Our September 25-26 Northeast Region Shingo Conference is all about sharing: information, ideas, problems, plans – all of those things that can make the sum of the parts greater than the whole. So a story about the power of sharing ideas seems appropriate.
As a new VP of Operations some years back, I inherited a foundering “suggestion program.” Determined to encourage greater participation from our employees, I talked the program up on the floor. “Nobody ever followed up on my idea,” one employee reported me. Another showed me an idea he had submitted about part simplification and stated, “I got a rejection notice, but no explanation.” This was the general tenor of feedback from the floor: ideas rejected with no explanations.
When I took these concerns to the blue-ribbon evaluation committee the responses were defensive: “That’s a good example of a low value idea,” a committee member retorted, referring to the Allen screw standardization idea. “First, these are penny parts which will not affect the cost and second the cost to change the drawings associated with these is prohibitive.” This committee member was a designer and, as such, focused on the cost to him to execute this change.
I pressed the designer on his assumptions. “The assembler pointed out to me that the tool changes required for three different types of screw heads increased assembly time by more than 20%.” After a pause, the production control manager commented, “Having fewer different screws in the mix would reduce stockouts and inventory locations. That would be a benefit too.”
A production supervisor piped up, “I agree. And, to be honest, when there are serious stockouts, I can usually find a replacement screw with a different head that will work.”
The designer shot back, “Those would be out of spec!”
“Not necessarily,” commented the quality control manager, “if they don’t change the fit, form or function of the part.”
The discussion continued with opposition from the designer, but deeper evaluation of the idea led the committee to reconsider and accept the idea. When I took this information back to the floor I was surprised at the response: “That’s just one example, we have thousands of these problems.”
“Bring ‘em on,” I said, and posted the notice of the idea on the factory bulletin board to share the small victory with other employees.
At the next meeting of the blue-ribbon committee, as predicted by the assembly employee, there were many more ideas relating to screws. Some described the same problem, but on different assemblies, one noted that lengths for stocked screws differed by insignificant amounts – for no apparent reason. Still another idea suggested that stocking the same screw in aluminum, steel and zinc added no value to the product. Another suggested that the fastener might not even be needed. Hardly a specification or dimension was spared in these suggestions.
“Now we have opened Pandora’s box for penny parts,” complained the designer. “I’ll have to hire someone, just to update the drawings!”
The quality manager responded. “I’ve been thinking about this documentation problem. I think if the parts don’t affect the fit, form or function of the product, we can note this on the drawings with single statement, and then just update the bills of material on the computer.” After some discussion, a new standard was proposed for documenting fasteners on assembly drawings. “Can I submit this to the suggestion program?” quipped the quality manager.
The story continued over many months, expanding to other classes of parts and leading to a fundamental question of why the products required so many fasteners in the first place. A simple idea, based on the experience of one employee was shared across the organization, subsequently spawning a multitude of improvements and in the process kick-starting a comatose idea system.
What obstacles do you face to sharing in your organization? Let me hear from you.