Monday, December 20, 2010

The Snake’s Tail- Permanent problem solutions

In one of my other career lives, I assumed responsibility for an injection molding business that was plagued with poor quality, late deliveries, deceitful rumor mongering and, of course, the resultant threat of bankruptcy. If you have been a somewhat regular reader of these short blog articles it is likely you are thinking there is about to be a story that has something about forming Continuous Improvement teams. Yes, and yet that is not the point of this vignette.

The injection molding reality is replete with a myriad of machine and technology variables. Of course there were also people variables that in combination delivered a really murky pit of despair. The relentless pressure to make more parts, sooner, with less labor had the previous administration following an approach of “good enough” and not a culture of excellence. “Just get it out the door now!” seemed to be what was done every day in every way. In turn, that led to the daily crud with a work force whose morale was in the same pit of despair. One more dynamic, my college student son was a summer intern in the electrical maintenance department. Of course he was watching my actions and would learn whatever lessons were communicated by an organization under my leadership.

The question then: To follow the current culture of expedient, or to develop a culture of an unwavering commitment to excellence? The employees were knee deep in snakes and I was an elephant on a tight rope (a big target in a precarious situation that couldn’t be missed by those who decided to take shots at me. Fortunately this elephant also comes with a thick skin). Those of you who are somewhat regular readers of these short blog articles might expect that it is time for a ‘My papa once done told me,’ so here it is: “Son don’t ever cut an inch off a snake’s tail. It just pisses them off. Go for the head!”

Our Continuous Improvement teams became committed to “killing the snakes” with which they had been living forever. They developed Purpose, Outcomes, Process (POP) statements that were focused on taking no prisoners, all problems must be solved by them. Their Action Item Matrices (AIM) listed every problem they could think of with respect to the snake (problem) at hand. At the end of each snake killing initiative, the team held a celebration lunch and handed out small (dead) plastic snakes in recognition of their successful “going for the head” efforts.

Soon the whole business turned around and my son learned a valuable lesson that ‘his papa once done told him’ in both words and actions. Got snakes? Go for the head!

The Doc

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