Life is a series of collisions with the future,” said Ortega y Gasset. “It is not a sum of what we have been but what we yearn to be.” What do you yearn to be?
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, we can see more by going backwards! Our natural instinct is to start at the beginning and move forward towards the end. This makes sense as time and our lives move forwards, but if you truly want to see, try going backwards starting at the end.
I suppose this advice could be applicable to evaluating your life too! You know starting at the end and envisioning your final moments and then working backwards from there to the present, and using this visioning to make changes in your life today. But that’s not my field. I’m talking about process reviews and gemba. Sorry!
When reviewing an entire process or supply chain, it’s very important to start the review from the end and work backwards. This maybe the end of final test, the end of the manufacturing line, or the loading dock. Sometimes, right from the customer. The reason for this is to be able to understand the upstream processes from the downstream “customer” perspective. By walking the process backwards, you will learn and understand the critical or key points required for the downstream process and be more attuned to look for the success attributes and negative impacts when you get to the upstream process. You can compare the expected condition to that of the actual condition to identify potential issues and then be prepared to look for and identify potential causes of these abnormalities when you move to the upstream process.
Walking a process backwards can be very enlightening and usually opens your eyes to many improvement opportunities. These findings can be of safety, quality, productivity or cost in some manner or another. The reverse perspective is eye opening!
I recall working with a leader that was trying to improve the cycle time of a process. After a period of time and several process improvements, although they had improved the cycle time, there remained significant variation in the results and on occasion the cycle time was not achieved. They found that the main part of the process was being completed within the cycle time. So during their investigation, they skipped this part of the process as it was obviously working well. The problem was that the carts containing the completed product were being misplaced. Time searching for the carts in the next process step resulted in the overall cycle time sometimes not be achieved. Efforts had then been put towards making the carts more easily recognizable from other process carts and improving the visibility of them. So together we walked the process in reverse.
Walking the process backwards, we asked the operator in the downstream process where they obtain the carts from the upstream process. They were fully aware of where it was and gladly took us there. So far so good! As we walked to the location, they advised us that the carts are rarely found there. When we asked why, they said it was because the other operators would drop the carts closer to the lunch room out of convenience when going for break. So typically they would just go there and start looking for the carts. When we arrived at the designated location, it became a little more clear what was going on. The 5S was horrible. The lines to indicate where the carts should be parked were worn out and worse, the bar codes to which the operator was to scan the carts into were worn out as well. Other carts and equipment that were not supposed to be located there were taking up space designated for these sub-assembly carts.
We then spoke to one of the downstream operators and asked them how they scan the carts into the designated locations when the bar codes were damaged. They showed us the small bar code cards they had made up and carried with them! Problem solved! What this meant is they could very easily scan the bar code at any location regardless of where the cart was physically. Of course this wasn’t the intent, but… that’s what happened. Further questioning of the operator indicated that they really didn’t have a good understanding of what the bar code was for and that the location of the cart was critical to their downstream internal customer. Most operators have the best of intentions, so because the space was occupied with “other stuff”, the operators thought it was a good idea to scan their portable bar code cards and drop the carts at another similar process where carts were placed. It was coincidence that this was close to the path to the lunch room.
Sure, these issues could have been identified by walking with the process flow, however, with the walking backwards perspective, your questions are different and the answers come from the downstream customer who views things from a different perspective than the operator in the previous process. This allows you to determine the key points and success factors much faster and more efficiently. Using the example above, for sure the poor 5S and worn out bar codes would have been found walking with the process. However, it is very possible that the issue would not have been resolved because we may not have determined that the operators had the portable bar code cards, or learned that they really didn’t understand the intent and criticality of scanning and placing the carts in the designated location, and may also have assumed it was poor operator behaviour of dropping the carts on their way to lunch. A lot of time and frustration could have easily resulted and the root cause not determined.
If you don’t already walk the process backwards, try it next time and leave a comment as to whether you found it beneficial.
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Leave a comment with any Lean or Continuous Improvement myths you feel are inaccurate or “BUSTED”!
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