by Ken Snyder
“Focus on the Process” is a principle in the Continuous Improvement dimension of the Shingo Model. This principle holds the distinction of being the only principle about which no one has suggested an improvement. This is a sign of what we have witnessed numerous times – it is a principle that is so evident that everyone seems to understand instinctively. There will be no changes to this principle as we consider an improved set of principles.
This creates an opportunity to reflect on all the different ways we consider “Focus on Process” to be such an important and well-understood principle. Note that many of these reasons are integrated with other principles in the Shingo Model.
- Focus on the Process and not the Operator. When a problem occurs, too often leaders blame the operator. As a rule, operators do not intend to be the cause of a problem – they intend to do good work. The vast majority of the time, the cause of the problem is a bad process that makes it easy for a problem to occur. And it is usually leaders and engineers who have designed the bad process. This relates to the principles of “Respect Every Individual.”
- Focus on the Process to Make the Process Easy. Related to the first bullet point, the process often makes it hard to do the right thing, and easy to do the wrong thing. Making it easy to do the right thing, and hard to do the wrong thing, improves the chances of success.
- Focus on the Process and not the Operations. This is probably the single most common topic in the 17 books written by Shigeo Shingo. Leaders often have a tendency of configuring equipment solutions to do several operations in one big, grand batch. Shingo argued repeatedly that small equipment designed for one operation on one product at a time allows for much better flow, significantly reduces turnaround times, reduces overall capital equipment spending, eliminates changeovers, improves equipment uptime, makes maintenance much easier, etc. This relates to the principle of “Flow and Pull Value.”
- Focus on the Entire Process. Shingo often talked about the “whole process” – including upstream and downstream, both internal and external. We now refer to this as the “value stream,” and thinking about the entire value stream is an important component of the principle of “Think Systemically.”
- Focus on the Process to Eliminate Wastes. The original 7 wastes of transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, and defects (including both scrap and rework) are best seen by going to the process – the place where the work is being performed – and observing the process to see the waste.
- Focus on the Process to Solve Problems. The problems that matter are the problems that occur where the work is being done. Problems can only be observed at the place where the work is being done. Some of the analysis and preparation to solve a problem may be done elsewhere, but ultimately, the solution to a problem has to occur at the place where the work is done. This relates to the principle of “Embrace Scientific Thinking.”
- Focus on the Process to Go & Observe. The purposes of going to observe the process are not only to eliminate wastes or to solve problems. ALL improvements hinge on focusing on the process and identifying ways to make improvements.
- Focus on the Process More than the Result. Sometimes, through luck or through special skills, a good result can happen with a bad process. Focusing on the process more than the result means it is OK to test an improvement idea and fail. Failure is an important part of the improvement process. Focus on the process more than the result also means it is OK for results to be red It is more important to make improvements than it is to be green but with no improvement. This relates to the principle of “Embrace Scientific Thinking.”
- Focus on the Process More than the Product. The principle of “Control Quality at the Source” demands a certain focus on the product. The best way to control quality at the source is to “Focus on the Process.” If the process can be trusted, then the product produced by the process can be trusted as well.
- Focus on the Process to Define the Role of Operators, Operations, and Products in the Process. This also relates closely to the principle of “Embrace Scientific Thinking.” Standard work is the basis of all improvements. Good standard work defines the role of the operators, the operations, and the flow of the product. Some leaders may think automation (or robotics, IoT, or Industry 4.0, etc.) eliminate the need for operators. Automation just helps a bad process make a lot more waste a lot more efficiently. Wherever possible, operators should not be required to do the operations that can be performed by machines. Operators should focus on problem-solving and improvements as much as possible. This relates to the principle of “Embrace Scientific Thinking.”