For effective and robust manufacturing within a plant, a proper process orientation and mindset must be developed and maintained. Three simple steps will help manufacturing staff develop this mindset.

Understand Process Basics

The first step to adopting a process mindset is to understand that all work within a manufacturing firm is composed of a series of tasks that result in an output. Within the firm, every person will play a role in one (or more) tasks that result in an output.

Engage the Organization

It is critical for the entire organization to understand the processes that the firm uses to directly produce their product, as well as the support processes necessary to sustain the organization. Engage the individuals who are involved in the process to specify inputs that are necessary for their work. In other words, describe inputs they need to do the work they do. To do this, several questions can be asked that help define the process. Where do you receive input and from whom? What do you do with the inputs you receive? When? How? Why? How does the quality of inputs you receive effect the task you have to do?

Effective manufacturing organizations task upstream workers with interviewing their downstream colleagues to understand how upstream work affects downstream work and vice versa.

After the teams have interviewed their colleagues, they should visually document the processes using either sticky notes or simple flowchart symbols to identify process steps. Posting these charts in common areas for all staff to review, discuss and refine is helpful not only for better process awareness but also team-building.

Once the flowcharts have matured through peer review and discussion, formal flowcharting tools can be employed to better document the processes. These tools should be treated as living documents, allowing for modification once new or better processes are developed and approved through management.

Make Process Understanding Robust in the Organization

To make the process understanding robust in your manufacturing organization, flowcharts of multiple processes should be employed. The manufacturing staff should explore them to discuss and discover how variations with input or output affect them personally and how they may affect the final output as a whole. This could include what is affected by a last-minute request or what happens when established communication steps are not understood or executed.  The teams should also consider what happens when an established process is not followed or does not exist.

By becoming aware of the results of process variation or dereliction, the manufacturing teams can better understand the need for process adherence. This exercise also allows them to anticipate and correct for process variation. By taking such things into account, the manufacturing team will become far more aware of processes within their organization and allow the plant to operate in a high process quality state.

Jason Piatt is president of Praestar Technology Corp., a provider of consulting and training services to manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic region specializing in lean, Six Sigma & strategy formation.