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Process Discipline: What Your Process Control is Lacking

July 26, 2021

 by Renaud Anjoran

factory worker looking at screen monitoring

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 process discipline. 

Process discipline is the adherence to well-thought-out and well-defined processes that are executed daily.

The rules are often related to the work of process engineers and local leaders, e.g. line leaders, and production supervisors. Or rather, the lack of a particular type of work in this case.

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 defined processes, such as 5S, punctuality, non-cyclical audits, PPE, regularly followed?

Let’s assume the factory has set some rules. It can often be seen on the walls, e.g. what protective equipment to wear or work instructions. But, do operators actually 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, if not, are the standards followed?

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. Do crises result in shortcuts in the process control plan?

Let’s say people have developed some 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 manufacturing and support processes audits carried out? Are they conducted by industry leaders or by a third party?

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 are not being followed. It might be because they are not appropriate in a specific area or for a particular situation; in that case, you’ll need to adjust your process rules.

4. When audits or tracking identify non-compliance or misses, are problem-solving tools used?

Just being able to identify issues through auditing processes is not sufficient. As I wrote above, people need to ask, “why is this not followed?”. You may find that the issue arises from a lack of resources, poor production planning, unstable 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 so many organizations. Someone needs to 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? Is there any observable visual evidence?

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 regularly do leaders conduct Gemba walks to teach and inspect? How many leaders do so?

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

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

Keep Sight of the Objective: Strong Process Control Plans

Without the discipline of following standards and performing the necessary preventive actions, process control will lose its place. 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 quantity and quality of the product at the expense of the process.
  • Management is forced to jump in and fix daily problems and has no bandwidth to 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 might just be a matter of reinforcing the process, but in other instances, you may need to 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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