Be Effective First, Then Strive For Efficiency

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in Reflections on Excellence

Why is everyone always in such a hurry? Recently, I was approached by yet another production manager who was in a panic to improve the performance of his production area. Nothing would do other than immediate help and instantaneous results. It did not matter that the poor performance that he was so anxious to resolve had existed for years—he wanted improvement right now. Obviously the pressure from above was on and the need for change was immediate.

For someone in my profession, this is a common request—instant solutions to problems that have evolved over years of variance from best practices or just plain bad practices. They want us to wave a magic wand, speed up their production process, eliminate waste and improve their operating profit. And they want it done yesterday. What they do not seem to understand is that it is just not that simple.

The keys to effective production are consistency and stability. Each step, task and action in the production process must be performed in the same way and in the same sequence each and every time. Variability in the operation, from incoming materials to finished goods and from startup to shutdown, must be eliminated or at least held within acceptable norms. Achieving this consistency and stability takes time and cannot be speeded up in a rush to instant gratification.

Years of solving these types of problems have taught me an important lesson. Always seek effectiveness first, and then worry about how fast it can be done. I was reminded of this lesson as I listened to this potential client. He just could not understand why his efforts to improve his operation were not having the desired effect. He argued that he had copied exactly what we had done in another area of the plant. He had established process control boards and new standard procedures copied directly from what we had done. He had instructed his supervisors to enforce these changes. Why was it not working?

The difference between the approach that worked and the one that did not is that the successful approach concentrated on being effective first. It took the time to create cross-functional teams made up of the operators, maintainers and support personnel in the subject production area. These teams were charged with the responsibility and authority to resolve the issues that impacted the consistency and stability of the production operation. They identified the waste, losses and non-value activities associated with their current mode of operating. They designed new standard procedures containing specific, step-by-step instructions to guide execution of the production process—procedures that were effective and provided consistency and stability. Because the teams created these new procedures, acceptance and adherence was a natural progression.

In contrast, in the approach that did not work, the workforce was not involved at all. Instead the production manager attempted to mandate change—to bypass effectiveness in an attempt to speed up the process. Hopefully you recall our discussion of Mobley’s Law #5 and understand the reasons that change must be voluntary and accepted on a personal level. It cannot be forced or mandated.

The evolution from current, less-than-desired operating performance to best-in-class does not stop with the reengineering process. After the cross-functional teams have accomplished their assigned task, these new procedures and methods must become an integral part of the operation’s DNA. This is a two-fold process. First, these procedures must be implemented and validated to assure effectiveness. Then you need to establish the means to assure long-term compliance.

Only after this is done, can we switch focus to efficiency. Efficiency must be built upon a stable, consistent platform. It cannot be achieved by taking shortcuts, eliminating needed tasks or activities, or by arbitrarily reducing headcount. Efficiency improvement is a continuous, long-term process focused on eliminating waste and inefficiency in all aspects of the production process. This might entail implementing a kanban materials handling system to eliminate lost time waiting on materials, a redesign of the module or cell layout or further elimination of unnecessary steps, but it is constant and never-ending.

In closing, always remember to concentrate on doing it right first, and then worry about how fast it can be done. Cheaper, faster, quicker is a guaranteed journey to failure.

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,

R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

"Be effective first, then strive for efficiency."

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Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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