Doing Your Homework ??? Part 1

You’ve probably heard me talk before about the idea of operational excellence. In additional to operational excellence, I’ve probably called it manufacturing performance, predictable manufacturing, or even reliable manufacturing.

It’s the basic idea that in manufacturing there’s just some things that you have to do right. Like attack the waste streams and control variability and ensure consistency. You need to adhere to your schedules, achieve regulatory compliance, and work on ways to optimize performance.

I could talk about it all day, but I’d like to do something different. I’d simply like to take these ideas and turn them back around to you. I’d like to ask you to go do some homework.

I’ve got some questions here that I’d like to ask you to think about. Or even go out and investigate a little bit. I bet there’s some of these questions that you don’t have a good answer for and some that you probably have a good answer for but just might be able to do better.

So, here are some things to think about in the area of operational excellence. Here are homework questions for you to think about. (By the way, some of these questions may not apply to everyone but you should get the idea, anyway.)

Waste Streams

Have all your waste streams been documented? Do you measure every waste stream that you have? Do you report actual (not estimated) waste quantities to all affected parties?

Waste is the most fundamental issue in operational excellence. It is also one of the most expensive yet easily controllable costs that you have. You have to work on the waste streams because it’s literally money down the drain.


Have you identified all product variation and quality attributes in all raw materials? Do you adjust your process based on incoming material variability?

The questions here could be endless. The point is that there’s variability all over and just a little variability in our inputs could have a huge impact on your outputs. You have to find and control the variability. It’s just that simple.


Is the entire enterprise using the same set of production schedules? Do you measure your performance against the schedule? Are the planning and execution schedules the same? Is schedule variance measured, reported?

The schedules have to be real. If they’re not real, why do them? If they’re real, are you able to hit them? The schedule is supposed to be a valuable tool and operational excellence and reliable manufacturing is all about doing what you said you were going to do.


Do you know what your regulatory compliance costs? Can you withstand a regulatory audit? How long does it take to prepare for an audit? Are your regulatory inspection records separate from all other test results?

You’re never going to get away from regulatory compliance. But, you have to keep the costs under control and you have to have all your ducks in a row to be confident enough to handle the toughest audit.


Do you measure changeover time? Do you measure performance against current capability standard? Do you measure separate pieces of equipment within the process against the performance standard? Have you identified all bottlenecks in your processes? Do you measure performance directly?

This is, of course, a lot bigger than just changeovers, but you see the point. Excellence is about hitting the standard every time. That’s why I call it predictable or reliable manufacturing.

Well, that’s probably enough for now. If you’ll take these questions and be honest with yourself, you’ll probably find some areas for improvement; probably several areas for improvement. But, finding them is half the battle. So, go do some homework. Good luck and let me know what you find.

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