Steel fabrication thoughts and insights
Capturing insights by connecting things and people (6 of 7): Process agility
FabTrol uses an “Agile” development process. This doesn’t mean we have no process—in fact it requires knowing exactly where we are on each of the tasks at hand, delivering quality completed work more often and knowing what’s next if we finish this task.
Process agility is:
- Accepting that change is inevitable and driving rather than resisting it
- Using a process that divides tasks into smaller phases of work to deliver some progress sooner and allow for easy re-prioritization
- Making a habit of incremental changes to the process itself, so those can be delivered sooner, results measured and new adjustments made
- Embracing the discovery that you've taken a small step in the wrong direction, as positive.
Many people and processes assume that the more prep, review and depth of work achieved, prior to delivery--the lower the risk. Perhaps the prep and review helps, but making too much progress prior to delivering something often buries problems and assumptions deep under further progress. Mistakes become more and more difficult--expensive--to unravel and are often so ingrained by the time of discovery that entire projects and products are abandoned or the problem is institutionalized and the cost of dealing with it accommodated for months and years to come.
Process agility does not mean that you can’t have a six-month or two-year plan for your fabrication shop. It does mean that no one can work on something for months before you acknowledge the impact of unforeseen events or find out whether it will take another six months. The point is to deliver many small changes sooner rather than delaying change until it is so large and scary that people over-complicate and resist it.
In previous posts I've talked about integrated, instantly analyzed data that connects feedback from things, people and processes throughout your business. Process agility is what makes it all worthwhile.
Without instant analysis of integrated data you pretty much have to follow the common course of tossing work over the wall, into the shop as soon as the documents are approved, and materials are inbound to match the cutting plan. Rather than driving and managing your delivery and production schedules with well-timed releases of work, all work is released ASAP and paperwork and meetings convey prioritization to the shop, often after the shop has made its own decision about what to do next.
With accurate real-time feedback about the current shop load, anyone can open the left-to-do form and click on the bottleneck in their shop (yours will be different from the next guys) and see the key indicator of how effectively the shop is loaded right now. This means work can be released precisely when you know it is needed--one week, one day or one hour before it will impact your bottleneck. This preserves scheduling flexibility, increases efficiency as everyone collaborates around the same priorities and gives late-breaking revisions their best chance of being known before work is started.
Document Example: "On Demand"
Shops receive approved documents ASAP to "make sure no one in the shop is waiting on drawings (work)". The downside is needing to revise the documents one or more times before anyone looks at them and the possibility that this process will fail and the old revision be left in production. Enabling the shop to print the drawings they need (right now or perhaps for the day at hand) or better, fetch them to an iPad, removes the entire process of maintaining the right revision on the shop floor. If you retrieve the drawing as late as possible and the software is tasked with maintaining the latest revision every time there is an update from the model, you increase the likelihood that workers have the right revision while eliminating the process of destroying or removing the old copy and replacing it. Plus you achieve the original goal of making sure they always have work--a "Drawing Release" or "Work Order" document that lists drawings or assemblies that they are authorized to use/work on is all that is required. No more waiting for the drawing office to print or copy drawings, the shop can pull the drawings to a printer or their iPad at will.
When is On Demand better?
This applies to nc data, cut lists, anything you have a formal process for "revising and replacing". Delivering the lengths to the saw when it's time to cut the bar means the parts will be cut according to the latest, greatest information. Plus it takes less work to fetch the cut lengths as bars are loaded on the saw than it does to sift through a stack of cut lists and manage revisions to a partially cut page.
Drive your shop
When you release work at precisely the moment that will drive production efficiently--but no sooner--and continuously deliver process improvements, one small step at a time, you don't just embrace change, you drive it. Process agility means change is your tool, not something you resist or only react to.