I write a great deal about the difference between Lean and Six Sigma and Kaizen on the production floor and in the office. As much as many of us are figuring out that the same tools can be used in those very different environments with some translation for context, the training in the tools and methods hasn’t caught up.
I still see that the common norm is for everyone in an organization to be taught the same methodology and tools in the context of production process improvement. Absolutely, it is good, in my opinion, for everyone to be shown and educated in the improvement methodology of the organization. Continuous improvement must be a cultural endeavor, and a culture cannot be established among just a few of the group.
Unfortunately, because the context of the training is that of the production floor, a great many of those being educated do not perceive how the methods or tools are meaningful to them. In fact, they get frustrated that they must sit through several days worth of training that they know they will never apply. I could go on, again, about how we need to adjust our training to suit our personnel’s actual work, but instead I’d like to show each of us how we can try and do our own translation.
This message is for everyone, including the Continuous Improvement (CI) experts. The tools and methods taught for the purposes of production process improvement are not exclusive tools. They are merely tools to help organize and communicate information and ideas. Given that, we can use them in any, yes any, context where we need to organize information and communicate ideas.
For example, one of my favorite development tools is the Function Analysis System Technique (FAST) diagram. It is a tool developed for the design of products and I learned it as part of the Value Management or Value Engineering methodology. Simply put, the FAST diagram begins with a list of key functions and outputs that a solution must accomplish, and then builds a tree of functions and features necessary to fulfill the objective.
The FAST diagram is constructed and can be read from two directions at once. Starting at the left, we have our desired outcome. As we move to the right of the diagram we are answering the question, “How?”
Outcome: hot hamburger
How: cook hamburger
How: cooking grill
As you see, it is a nice way to break down the functional and elemental needs of the system. At some point we make choices based on our requirements. We don’t have to cook burgers with a propane grill; it could be a charcoal grill or we could fry hamburgers instead of grill them.
The rest of the magic of the FAST diagram is that as we read the diagram from right to left, we are answering the question, “Why?” If we have an element that does not elegantly connect our “whys” to our “hows” then we immediately see where we have designed in unnecessary functions or features. We also clearly see that we have many choices to answer the question, How?” That drives better design and problem solving thought processes.
My point in describing the FAST diagram is that, more often these days, I’m not designing products, I’m designing training curriculum. I use the FAST diagram every time to do so. Training curriculum is my product. By using the discipline of identifying the desired output and the key elements that must be understood, the FAST diagram process helps me determine what things are the best things to teach, and what training tools will be the best to use for the specific audience.
The FAST diagram was designed for developing machinery and automobiles. I use it very effectively for developing training curriculum. Every tool in your arsenal can be versatile the same way. To get you started, to demonstrate a translation, we will now walk through a real example.
If you want to go home today and say you learned something, then pick up a pencil and a piece of scratch paper and play along. If you want to go home today and say, “I had an opportunity to learn something, but decided not to,” then stop here and go do something else. I know I’m very ornery today.
All right, we are going to use another of my favorite tools, and one that many readers probably also know, but we are going to use it for something completely different than we were shown in our training. We are going to play with the Parameter Diagram, or “P-diagram.” If you have been through Six Sigma training at any level, then you have probably seen this before.
The P-diagram is useful for designing process steps in particular. It diagrams inputs, outputs, controllable elements and uncontrollable or noise elements, and if we use it for more than just a pretty picture it helps us plan our process steps to be right the first time, with little adjustment required. However, I find it is also very useful for any form of plan; especially test plans.
We are going to plan a barbeque picnic with your immediate work team. I know, it sounds trite and you might be feeling a little foolish with your pencil and paper in your hand, but if you play along, you will learn how to translate that process design tool into a tool you can use every day for any plan. Tell me that won’t be worth your time; I dare you. Also, start your timer, for the sake of argument.
Draw a rectangle in the middle of your paper about 2X3 inches or 4 X 6 centimeters in height and width. Write, “Team Barbeque” in the box. That is so when you are cleaning your desk at the end of the day you will know what you are looking at.
On the right of the box, outside, we are going to list our desired outcomes. Take one minute. Some suggestions might be as follows.
- Social camaraderie
- Stress release
- Enjoyed food
- Have fun
Once you have a handful of desired outputs or outcomes listed, let’s talk inputs. Outside the box, to the left, let’s list the inputs we might have. These are the things that are necessary to make the barbeque happen
- Team attendance
- Games or entertainment
Again, you can probably put a good list together in less than a minute. Now, let’s address the noise; those things we cannot control. This is, in my opinion, the most valuable part of this tool. At the bottom, outside of your box start listing those things that might affect your outcomes, but which you have no control over.
- People’s taste in food
- Existing camaraderie, or lack of
- People’s work and private schedules
We have one last side of the box to fill in. That is the stuff we can control. At the top, make a list of what you can influence or control.
- Selection of location
- Selection of food
- Selection of games or entertainment
- Selection of date and time
- Decision of who will cook
Congratulations your P-diagram is complete, and you probably spent less than 4 minutes doing it. Now lets put 4 minutes of doodling and brainstorming to work.
If you were paying attention you thought, “Hey, Alan, you put “budget” on the list of things that you control and also on the noise list. Wake up, man!” It should only be on one list and not both, you are correct. For some of us, we might be dictated a budget for a quarterly or annual team event and it is predetermined for us and, therefore, it is noise. However, some of us may get to allocate a portion of our operating budget and we can choose what that will be. Put it where it belongs for you.
Now, take a look at the list of things that are noise or uncontrolled. Look for ways to eliminate the problem that those could cause. Look for ways to move them from the uncontrolled list to the controlled list. This is what the P-diagram is really good for, in addition to making us list the desired outputs and what inputs are necessary to enable them.
If you look at the short example lists I made above, you will see that I listed controllable elements that counter most of the uncontrolled elements. For example, we can’t control the weather, but we can control the time and the location, which should make it easy to mitigate poor weather affects on our desired outcomes. We can also ask our team members what kinds of food they might prefer which can help us ensure that our menu meets everyone’s taste.
Once we have made an action plan that ensures all of our necessary inputs are achieved, and we incorporate and use those things we can control to address or eliminate those things we can’t control, we can feel confident that we have planned a successful team barbeque event.
So, what did your timer say? Did it take less than 4 minutes to complete your diagram? How long do you think it might take you to put together an action plan from it, another 10 minutes? That’s less than 15 minutes to successfully plan your team event, or at least make a task list of things to do to get the event ready.
You will be hard pressed to convince me that 14 minutes is too much time, and one piece of paper and a list and a diagram are too much trouble to go through to plan a fine afternoon with your colleagues. Just try to convince me you could have done it better and faster without the tool.
In Six Sigma training we didn’t use the P-diagram for planning team barbeques. If you are lucky, your instructor put it in the context of designing process steps. Sometimes we just get the tool without any context at all. It doesn’t matter.
OK, I’m sorry, it does matter. We should all be taught how these tools can be used in some useful way. Instead, let me say that we don’t have to use the tools only in the context we were taught them. We can use them in any context we want, and we should.
If you are frustrated that you are being forced to learn a bunch of CI tools for production stuff that you will never use, then take my examples to heart. “One-up” your instructors and find ways to use the tools in your own environment. If you are one of those instructors and you only use the tools in the context you were taught them or teach them, open your mind. You missed a big opportunity.
We instructors should be looking for excuses to use the tools any chance we get. It keeps us fresh and we can help our peers learn to use them in more ways and in more meaningful ways. Once we have done that, we can begin to modify the training materials we are given to use or we can develop better ones.
Don’t limit your mindset to using a specific tool for a specific purpose. Tools are just a means of organizing and communicating. The information itself is irrelevant. Put them to work for you in any way and every way you can. Once you become practiced, you can and will improve your own personal performance.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping