How Quick Fix Routines Support Continuous Improvement

Standard work is the foundation for continuous improvement. It is important for tasks to be completed in the same way by all involved in the manufacturing process, and for this standard method be improved over time. The approach can be applied to various manufacturing job functions, from plant operation through to maintenance tasks, and ultimately various functions of management. Standard work brings stability to processes requiring manual intervention, and without stability, continuous improvement becomes difficult to achieve. But what happens when, despite this focus on standardisation, something goes wrong and performance is compromised? How should those responsible for a task or operation respond?

The answer of course lies in the use of problem solving to identify the root cause for the deviation, and to respond promptly. It is however not necessary to launch into a fresh problem solving event every time a deviation is encountered. There are, in the final analysis, only a given number of things that can go wrong with any process. What we often put down to “experience” when describing individuals who are able to rapidly deal with deviations is generally their knowledge of all of the various things that can go wrong as well as how to deal with them. These individuals have “seen it all before”. How do we capture this kind of tacit knowledge in a format that is easily understandable, can be used to train others, can facilitate continuous improvement and importantly, can be the subject of continuous improvement itself? The answer is to incorporate Quick-fix routines into work instructions and procedures and to train staff in how to use and improve them.

A Quick-fix routine is a guide to a course of action that can be followed to rapidly correct performance deviations when they occur. They achieve this by facilitating the rapid identification of the root cause for the deviation without the need for a fresh problem solving event. Quick-fix routines recognise that the number of potential causes for any problem is ultimately finite. If each of these potential causes is documented, when a deviation occurs, all that is required is to determine which of the potential causes is the root cause by gathering evidence relevant to those specific root causes. By dealing with the root cause, the problem can be solved and the performance deviation can be quickly corrected.

Quick-fix routines are best developed for each important output of the process being managed. These outputs could be in the form of parameters with respect to product quality, throughput, the cost of manufacturing and any other performance category of interest. Within each category would be specific, measurable key performance indicators. Each of these KPI’s would have a set of performance specifications. Quick-fix routines would document the potential causes for deviations from these specifications. The Quick-fix routines should be as focused as possible, and be designed such that the individual responsible for the performance outcome can easily refer to them when dealing with performance deviations.

My preferred format for documenting Quick-fix routines is to use WHY-WHY Networks to display all potential root causes, and then to document a response to each one. Process owners then simply need to determine which root cause is driving the deviation and then refer to the appropriate response. WHY-WHY Networks are a variant of 5-WHY Analysis, with the primary difference being that evidence is not gathered between individual steps in the root cause analysis process. Instead, all potential root causes are determined for each deviation, on the basis that any particular problem could have a number of root causes.  One or more of these potential root causes should be the reason for the existence of the deviation at any point in time. If none are found to be the root cause, this means that the network is incomplete, and further problem solving is required. The WHY-WHY Network can hence itself be the subject of continuous improvement.

By modifying work instructions, procedures and quick-fix routines in response to performance problems experienced, over time all possible reasons (i.e. root causes) for performance deviations will have been identified. This drives continuous improvement in a meaningful way, provides a ready platform for training and serves as a repository for tacit knowledge.

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