Organisations that have got continuous improvement right encourage every employee to challenge themselves in improving performance, as individuals and in teams. Using the basic tools of PDCA, these organisations are constantly learning at every level, disseminating and exchanging these learnings and incorporating them into standardised work practices. All of these efforts are in pursuit of desired performance outcomes, and these outcomes are measured extensively and continuously in these organisations.
Problems can exist throughout your business, including in areas such as product quality, cost, safety, throughput, plant reliability, plant flexibility, environmental performance and legal compliance, as examples. Any number of problems can exist in each of these categories, and a single problem can in fact impact on a number of these areas. Problem solving skills are therefore fundamental to the achievement of superior performance.
There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to the fact that your organisation experiences problems as a matter of routine. This does not necessarily mean that your operations are in disarray. It all comes down to the definition of what a problem is. In manufacturing and operations, and indeed in any undertaking, a problem is simply a gap between achieved performance and desired performance. To establish that a particular problem exists in an organisation requires:
- a measure of performance to be in place
- an expression of the performance level achieved (using this measure) and
- a target level of performance – the performance standard
For example, the energy consumption target at a given level of production in a factory may be 15 kWh/ton of product, and the company may be achieving an energy consumption figure of 17 kWh/ton. There is a performance gap of 2 kWh/ton, confirming that a problem exists, and this may then become the subject of a comprehensive problem solving exercise.
A high-performance organisation can be faced with many more problems than an organisation content to simply meet average industry benchmarks. This is simply because organisations seeking to improve achieve the standards they set for themselves and then raise these standards once they have been achieved. If you are not satisfied with your organisation being an average performer, make problem solving part of your organisation’s armoury. The more problem solvers you have, the better will be your performance.
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