Monday, August 6, 2012

So What DO You Call It?

Today’s post germinated from a Twitter conversation I had this weekend with fellow ASQ Influential Voice Mark Graban.  The conversation details are unimportant but it did get me thinking.  I have a project I am working on in the shipyard.  I wonder, can someone tell me if it is classifiable as a Lean event, Six Sigma project, Theory of Constraints project, Learning Cell, or something else?
The shipyard’s QA organization (the little q guys) possess a materials lab that processes all kinds of samples (solid, liquid, gaseous) in a fixed facility and a calibration lab outside the shipyard proper but have a turn-in/pick-up location at the shipyard.  Mechanics from the waterfront take the samples requiring testing to the materials lab. Travel distance ranges from .25 to .75 miles. Equipment requiring calibration is processed at the turn-in/pick-up point. Travel distance to this point is about a tenth of a mile less vice going to the lab.
From my Army maintenance days, to support our customers deployed we would send contact teams (a sergeant and a couple mechanics) to the major units we supported such that when equipment broke down, the contact team would get right on it, often enlisting the organization’s mechanics to help.  The contact teams had tools and parts and would make runs from a centralized point for repair parts, get caught up on the paperwork, etc.  What if we could do the same thing at the waterfront?  We could have a truck pick up samples and exchange equipment to be calibrated right on the waterfront, saving the mechanics a lot of time (and walking).  Plus, it supports our initiative of “non-stop execution of the mechanic performing work on the waterfront!” 
Of course, the first thing that popped into the QA director’s head when I mentioned it was “oh, like an ice cream truck!”  The two lab heads did not see the good humor in that statement (sorry, had to throw in a bad pun to keep you interested—Good Humor is an American brand of ice cream most often associated with delivery to neighborhoods in a truck).  Since it was my idea, I got tasked with figuring it out.  After meeting with the QA director requesting more info as to its feasibility, I and two other people more wise in shipyard and government procurement sat around a table for 90 minutes and fleshed out a plan of attack on how we are going to implement this idea with the goal of starting the first run at the beginning of the new year.
Now, here is the question.  We obviously are going to improve something, but what should I call it?  No, I do not intend to draw a spaghetti diagram nor take pictures of current state and future state, and I may do a process map more as idea generator rather than a requirement to understand the process.  So, I guess it is not a Kaizen event.   I am NOT going to go around and do time and motion studies to collect data and then determine the probability distribution (read no Minitab) so it can’t be a Six Sigma project.  I am not messing with any buffers so TOC is out.  I am going to change behaviors but I don’t need a special meeting to understand what behaviors need to be, it is pretty self-evident.  Ah, it just struck me, the PMI (Project Management Institute) guys will tell me it is a perfect project to use their tools, but I don’t have time to mess around with Gantt charts. What is a Master Black Belt to do?
Folks, here is my answer.  I am not going to call it anything.  It is the perfect hybrid event/project, with concepts drawn from all the major improvement methodologies.  Yet, if I submitted this event for my Lean certification, it would get rejected because I did not use the tools or they would force me into tasks that are non-value added.  Same goes for Six Sigma, TOC, and PMI.  As a former instructor of these dark arts I will admit I was guilty of a bit of this.
The Bottom Line: the less tolerant of divergence, the greater the opportunity to miss real savings. In this project, the shipyard is investing hard dollars to realize increased work capacity (soft dollars).  Yes, it is pretty evident there is a win for everyone EXCEPT for the QA department because they are the ones adding cost to the way they do business (and their budget). They will not see increased revenue (the shipyard does not generate revenue). Fortunately, the QA director and the shipyard commander understand systems thinking and they support this project.  Makes my job a whole lot easier!
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