Three Truths to Inspire Better Process Design

By: Julian Winn, The Manufacturing Institute

Many of the companies I have worked with who embrace the Shingo Model have built up years of experience of tools and systems as part of their lean implementations. They come to the Shingo Model with familiarity of guiding principles behind the Continuous Improvement dimension, and are often able to describe to me what they understand by Focus on Process. However, in my experience at The Manufacturing Institute, I find that there is often a gap in the deeper understanding of the principle. And this gap can lead to non-ideal behaviors at all levels of the business that make it difficult to truly focus on process.

The foundational belief we have defined for focus on process is: “Great processes set people up to succeed.” This is the human side of the principle, and I think we all like to be successful at what we do. As Fujio Cho, a former president of Toyota, famously said, “We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes, while our competitors get average or worse results from brilliant people managing broken processes.

When I look at any activity, at any level within an organization, there are truths that emerge for me:

1.     All outcomes are a consequence of a process.

If we accept this proposition, then logically, we must focus on the process in order to deliver ideal results.

Many of the organizations that I encounter in my work for TMI are too focused on lagging measures and outputs, or where there is little opportunity to make an improvement. In reality, we have only two options to deliver ideal results – ideal process inputs and an ideal process. Thinking this through, our ideal process inputs come from someone else’s process, leading us right back to focus on process.

In order to move forward, we need to go to the gemba, measure the right things and challenge the data we collect. Our hourly, per shift and daily process measures allow us to move closer toward leading measures and using real-time problem solving with our people to improve the process.

2.     It is nearly impossible for even good people to consistently produce ideal results with a poor process.

“We need to put our best man on the job,” is a statement I hear in many businesses and I’m sure I have used myself. What this really means is our processes are unreliable and inconsistent. Of course it is possible to work this way and results can be achieved, but what is the legacy of this type of approach? Ultimately, we disenfranchise our people and they feel no obligation to contribute towards process improvement, because someone else will jump in to make it happen. 

As Teruyuki Minoura, former MD of Global Purchasing at Toyota said: An environment where people have to think brings with it wisdom and this wisdom brings with it kaizen [continuous improvement].” We need to find ways to engage with the wider workforce and tap into their ideas for process improvement. If we acknowledge that the people who do the job really are the experts, then we have to work this way to move forward on our improvement journey.

3.     There is a natural tendency to blame the people involved when something goes wrong.

How often do we hear managers and leaders say they wish their people would feel more ownership for their processes? But how many people want to own a broken process, where they are blamed for poor results? We are surely not respecting the individual if we are asking them to operate broken processes. The role of mangers and leaders is to provide the resources and support that help people to understand and improve their own processes.

Focus on process truly challenges us to think and work in a different way. In TMI’s experience, successful and enduring businesses have great processes that set their people up to succeed.

Julian Winn, Consultant, The Manufacturing Institute 

Julian Winn is a principal consultant at The Manufacturing Institute and has worked with clients in the UK and Ireland who have been recognized with Bronze and Silver Medallions and the Shingo Prize.

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