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Process Discipline: 6 Questions To Gauge Effectivity

July 26, 2021

 by Renaud Anjoran

factory worker looking at screen

When we assess a factory and look for the causes of their inefficient performance,we notice a particular issue nearly every time: the lack of discipline in process improvement.. 
Process discipline is the adherence to well-thought-out and well-defined processes that are executed daily.

David Mann does an excellent job pointing out reasons for the lack of process discipline through 6 questions in his book, Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions

Understand your factory’s performance better by asking yourself the following questions:

6 Questions to Gauge Process Discipline

1. Are Operational Process Improvements, Such as 5S, Regularly Followed? 

Let’s assume the factory has set some rules. For example, what protective equipment to wear or work instructions. But do operators follow these rules?  

Do workers wear safety glasses when polishing? Do people get up and go to the bathroom when they feel like it? Is a 5S cycle underway, and are the standards followed if not?

If the rules aren’t followed, why aren’t they? Are your line leaders trained on how to persuade their teams to comply with the rules? Were those teams involved when the rules were defined, or was there no buy-in?

2. How Does a Crisis Affect Your Process Improvement Plan?

People have developed good habits like production tracking, rotation, and kanban triggers, among others.. However, when there is a crisis and output needs to increase, it is common to see that they forget all these habits.

If management is not completely sold on process discipline, they won’t insist on maintaining it during times of crisis.

And that’s critical. Once the crisis has gone, people don’t always go back to their good habits. And as with most operations, another problem will come soon, so these best practices will keep being challenged.

3. Are Your Manufacturing Audits Conducted By Industry Leaders or Third Parties?

When the rules are not followed, it has to be made apparent. Only relying on line leaders is a weak approach. You also need to have a process engineer or a quality engineer carry out random audits and post the results in a visually friendly way to help maintain pressure.

It also helps challenge the rules where needed. Find out why rules need to be followed. It might be because they are inappropriate in a specific area or for a particular situation; in that case, you’ll need to adjust your process rules.

4. Are You Using Problem Solving Tools to Solve Non-Compliance?

Just being able to identify issues through auditing processes is not sufficient. As stated above, you need to ask, “why is this not followed?”. You may find that the issue arises from a lack of resources, poor production planning, the unbalanced output of upstream processes, work instructions that need adjusting, among other reasons.

Recording a list of issues and doing nothing is another example of the “file and forget” approach that plagues many organizations. Someone must have the time and the competency required to ask the right questions and follow through with a resolution.

5. To What Degree Does Process Focus Lead to Process Improvements?

Once the root causes of non-compliance are clear, someone needs to have the leadership necessary to drive positive change.

Repeated audits keep adding pressure to the teams to prevent any backsliding. But that’s not enough.

6. How Often Do Leaders Do A Factory Walk to Teach & Inspect?

When someone hears “audit”, they tend to think of an assessment by the quality department, someone who specializes in continuous improvement, or an industrial engineer. While these individuals and departments can help, it’s not enough to ensure process improvement.

Having management walk on the shop floor regularly, observing operations, and asking questions is more powerful. It keeps them grounded in the realities of their factory’s operations, and they can push teams to make minor daily improvements.

Keep Sight of the Objective: Process Improvement Plan

Process control will lose its place without the discipline of following standards and performing the necessary preventive actions.. The performance of the whole manufacturing facility will quickly become inconsistent and unpredictable.

Since this is so important, we need to understand the common root causes of a lack of discipline at the process level. In our experience, we have found these two issues to be the underlying cause:

  • Top management is consumed by the product's quantity and quality at the process's expense.
  • Management is forced to jump in and fix daily problems and cannot maintain standards.

The first step to understanding the lack of process discipline is knowing the reasons behind the breakdown of your process control plan. In some cases, it is a matter of reinforcing the process, Still, in other instances, you may consider making changes to your process control plan if you identify gaps or inefficiencies.

To learn more about process control plans, check out CMC’s free resources:

Want to learn how to improve quality and cut costs through process control? Learn how to reduce your factory's costs by 20% in our eBook below.

'How To Cut Costs Through Quality Improvement Activities' eBook Download

Topics: Production Planning, Statistical Process Control, Mistake-Proofing, Process Improvement

Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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