It’s likely that few of us are regular readers of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. But the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the results of research that took place in a local hospital that should be of interest to all of us, no matter what industry we’re in.
Here’s the important finding:
“...[The researchers] showed that holding daily meetings focused on discharging patients can reduce the time spent in a hospital for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by 67% for patients between 40 and 69 years and 36% for those 70 and older.”
Buried in the academic language in the paragraph above is the point that simply holding frequent and regular meetings that focused on a single important issue led to substantial and measurable improvement in team performance. (Shortened length of stay helps patients because longer stays are associated with increased rates of infection. Shorter lengths of stay also result in lower costs for both the patient and the hospital.)
We’ve all become accustomed to reading about the many advances in technology and how they’ll shake the very foundations of manufacturing strategy. Yet we’ve seen too many examples of new technologies over-promising and under-delivering. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by manufacturing organizations on failed efforts to improve their technology strategies.
This isn’t to argue that advanced technologies have no role in helping manufacturers address today’s challenges. Still, are new technologies sometimes being too enthusiastically lauded when less costly, less risky solutions would work just as well, if not better? Let’s first look at what we’ve experienced:
Bohan has seen good results come from low-tech methods in his own work. Regular, short meetings that focus on a few issues are very effective in creating measurable improvement to operations. He has recently been working with a team of supervisors and associates at a client’s distribution center with a focus on workplace organization. Everyone meets once a week for about 30 minutes to walk through one area of the DC and to review all team member’s self-reviews of their own areas. Engagement is high and the DC has sustained high levels of excellence with respect to organization and cleanliness.
As a newly hired industrial engineer, Jacques’ first task was to conduct costing studies to set the stage for an MRP installation. Before he started that task, his supervisor had him learn about the jobs that he was to analyze. He handed him a cardboard circle, about three feet in diameter, and told him to stand in that circle each day for an hour or so and simply watch what happened around him. The next day, he was to move the circle to a new location.
As it happened, none of Jacques’ other talents, skills, or resources (which included software training, help from consultants and having a team of people to lead), were as helpful to him in leading the MRP installation as was the knowledge he gained observing the action on the plant floor while standing on that cardboard circle.
The critical skills of observing, discussing, and listening provide the foundation for all transformational work. Learning to see what needs to be done, who does what, when they do it, why it’s done and doing it all from the comfort of a three-foot-wide cardboard circle is obviously low-tech. And it works.
When Bohan talks to his business school students about the importance of good communications, they sometimes hold to the notion that good communication is mostly about “talking nice” to one another. They agree that good communication is important, but they see it more as a way of keeping friction among employees low than as a way of pursuing stakeholder value. This view leads to managers giving lip service to good communication but not really doing much about achieving. The examples mentioned above show us that regular, focused, observation coupled with face-to-face communication is a low-tech, low-cost avenue to continual improvement.
Here’s the method in a nutshell:
- Watch, observe, listen.
- Meet often and regularly.
- Focus on just one, maybe two things.
- Review data. Make decisions.
- Turn decisions into actions.
- Rinse and Repeat.
In this world, where there is much deserved attention to digital transformation, Internet of Things, and the applications of Artificial Intelligence, it turns out that some of our most effective improvements are always going to be based on attention to the fundamentals.
Ron Jacques is a 35-year veteran within the lean, manufacturing and consulting arenas. He is a Certified Lean Practitioner who has delivered hundreds of kaizen and transformational solutions to clients and companies within the Pharma, Medical Device, Automotive, Food/Beverage, Electronics, Military Defense, Personal Care, Consumer Durables and Capital Equipment industries.
Rick Bohan, principal, Chagrin River Consulting LLC, has more than 25 years of experience in designing and implementing performance improvement initiatives in a variety of industrial and service sectors. He is also co-author of People Make the Difference: Prescriptions and Profiles for High Performance.