Thursday, February 9, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 89

Much of my career has been spent in manufacturing and I’ve been very fortunate to work for some very progressive companies in that they provided an opportunity for me to grow and learn.  In case you don’t know already, I’m no spring chicken, so I’ve seen quite a few improvement initiatives along the way.  TQM was my first foray into a more structured approach to continuous improvement and I totally enjoyed learning all that Deming and Juran and others were teaching and writing about.  Early on I fell in love with applied statistics and then along came Six Sigma, so you can just imagine how I embraced this.  After that, Lean Manufacturing came into my world and I immediately embraced it.  In fact, I remember using Six Sigma and Lean together very early on before it was the popular thing to do.  But then I was introduced to the Theory of Constraints (TOC) and my world changed dramatically…..I had my epiphany!

Because I had so much success by combining Lean and Six Sigma, it was almost an automatic for me to merge this combination with my new improvement methodology, TOC.  I was introduced to TOC way back in early 1997 when I was hired by a company for the sole purpose of either closing a struggling manufacturing facility or make it profitable.  Since my background was primarily Quality and Engineering, I have to admit that I was lost.  How in the world was I ever going to turn around a plant when I had no prior experience even running one?  I must say that I was very worried.  I mean the future of the 300 people that worked there was virtually in my hands.

My mentor, the man who had hired me, gave me a copy of a book and told me all that I needed to know was in this book.  The name of that book was The Goal and boy could I ever relate to the central character in that book.  I remember leaving work early that day and staying up all night reading the entire book.  The next day I ordered copies of it for my entire staff and when it arrived I mandated that they read it that same day and night.  But we didn’t stop there.  We had daily discussions of its contents and how the lessons we learned could be applied to our plant.  It was then that the idea of integrating TOC, Lean and Six Sigma hit me like a ton of bricks.  The short version of this story was that we successfully turned our plant around and we did it in months, not years.  In fact, our plant became the model for our company.

Since that experience, I’ve had the opportunity to apply this integrated improvement methodology to many companies and each time it has worked so well.  In 2009 I was fortunate to be able to have a book published on this integration.  Since that experience, I’ve continued learning about all that TOC has to offer and believe me, it is substantial.  In 2008 I took a job with a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) company that repaired and maintained helicopters for the US Army.  I had no prior experience in an MRO environment, but it was clear to me that it didn’t matter.  The principles, tools and techniques are universal.  Quite simply, if there’s a process, it can be improved and done so rapidly!  That’s one of the cool things about TOC… provides the opportunity to realize significant bottom line improvement in very short order….especially when you combine the power of Lean and Six Sigma with TOC.

This integrated methodology works equally well in a hospital environment, an MRO environment or a manufacturing environment……any environment.  The reason it works so well is actually quite simple.  Rather than selecting local improvement projects like many people do with Lean and Six Sigma, TOC teaches you to look at the total system.  In every system there is a constraint that limits your ability to produce product at the rate required, so locating that constraint and then focusing your improvements there, delivers improvement to the total system.  This integrated methodology delivers much more rapid bottom line improvement than any other approach.

I’ve been at this for quite a few years now and it has never failed me.  So if you’re struggling to achieve the bottom line improvement that the stakeholders are looking for, try this method.  I promise you that you won’t be sorry you did.

Bob Sproull

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