By Ted Angelo
In any business, and especially in construction, there are always ways to improve a process. However, how do we identity the most important process to improve? Let's think of each of our processes as links in a chain. It has been said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Obviously, it makes sense to take the time to identify the weakest link.
How is this done? In most cases, the weakest link will be directly related to eliminating waste, and thereby improving profitably. If there is a reoccurring issue that is constantly raising its head and is found to be a distraction to the organization, this may be your weakest link. For example, in construction, at times there is a disconnect between what is estimated and designed and the actual installation. This disconnect can begin right from the start with the typical turnover meeting, which is designed to pass on specific project information to those who are responsible for the installation but were not involved in the bidding or designing of the project. We know the importance of this meeting or process. It enables the job to make or exceed the established margins. On larger projects, the execution of this process is usually not a problem; however on smaller projects (six months), do we make the time to use that same process?
Let's assume our weakest link is our process of passing information on smaller jobs. First, we need to see the current process that is being used. There are lean tools that can be used to overcome your weakest link. For example one we have used effectively in the last few years is the A3 Problem Solving tool.
There are seven steps when using an A3:
1 - Background of the weakest link
2 - Current process
3 - Goal (going from current situation to what you want)
4 - Analysis of why the current process is not working.
5 - Possible ways to overcome the current situation (Countermeasures)
6 - Chose a countermeasure and develop a plan with dates
7 - Follow up to (a) make sure all team members are adhering to the new process and then (b) analyzing the results to see if the new process is really working - that is making a difference in our bottom line. If not, start over.
Too many times we change a process and think we have solved the weakest link. However, in reality, we don't bother to validate the execution of the new process and as a result we actually (dare I say probably) fall back to doing things the old way instead of using the new process. Bad habit are difficult to break. Hence the need to apply the 7th step to make sure our time spent fixing the weakest link was not wasted.
What is YOUR weakest link?