3 Tangible Ways to Sustain Change

By Kyle Bowman

A waste reduction team I recently worked on achieved 160% of its annualized savings goal yet saw the largest problem reoccur one morning six weeks later. The problem, a product spacing issue, caused a significant percentage of the product to be wasted, but on the other side of the plant from the solution. Line operators in packaging, where the waste was taking place, quickly took up station removing the bad product from the line. It had only been a month and a half since they had been removing this waste daily so the process was a familiar one. Line operators in production, where the solution had been implemented, were overloaded and struggling just to keep up, let alone notice anything different than the previous weeks. Operations could have easily reverted to old ways and the status quo could have slipped back to accepting the waste as part of normal running.

Instead, however, the operators in packaging reported the reoccurrence to their supervisor who worked with the production supervisor to quickly identify a wrongly set conveyor speed as the culprit. The speed was reset to normal and the problem was resolved. But why was this solution sustained despite the deck being stacked against it?

Firstly, a new system placed a centralized recording sheet at the waste disposal scale where operators could record the waste and everyone could vet all the waste values at once. This meant the morning of the problem’s reoccurrence when an operator noticed the problem he was able to check that the waste numbers were abnormally high and report the problem to the supervisor with confidence. Before the new system to track waste disposal, supervisors would walk around the floor every hour or two and ask workers what waste numbers and reasons they had recorded. Not only did this mean that supervisors had to go out and actively chase after waste figures, but it also meant that some of the waste was lost or inaccurately recorded if workers couldn’t remember the exact amounts and causes two hours later.

The second factor was, after the solution’s implementation, the supervisors systematically working with each line operator to ensure they knew of the solution. We explained that a variation in product spacing had been causing the problem and that the problem had been fixed by implementing a spacing control system in production. Furthermore, we explained the operator’s role in helping to uncover the solution. These actions combined to instill a sense of ownership and understanding of the solution, motivating operators to proactively seek out new problems and suggest solutions to myself and the supervisor.

The final piece to increasing sustainability was making the solution less of a burden than the problem. Initially when we implemented the spacing control system there was pushback because the production operator’s job had increased in difficulty. Instead of just straightening the product they now had to space the product out as well. After working with the production operators, we slowed down the conveyor belt in front of the operator giving them more time to do the tasks and reducing the overall difficulty of the job. On the other side of the plant, with the amount of bad product entering packaging down, the line operators no longer had to dispose of waste as often. This left more time for operators to focus on their other tasks and led to an increased quality of work.

Rapid, unambiguous, step-change improvements are difficult enough to achieve without the endless battle that sustaining them can seem to be. After problem solving and solution implementation, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that performance has slipped back to previous levels, yet there exist countless examples of improvements that have failed to reach sustainability. So what can you do to enable sustainable change?

  1. Improve the visibility of the solution
  2. Increase the local operator’s role in making change possible
  3. Make sustaining the solution easier than the old way of running


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