Sunday, January 9, 2011


This past weekend included several exciting experiences.

Jenn and I played hind and seek in our house.

We built a tent out of blankets in the living room.

I had the chance to catch some rays.

Creating an Infrastructure for Change

In my last post, I briefly discussed fire-fighting and foundation-building. Over the last six months, my coworker, Niles, and I have have been on a journey in the development of an infrastructure for change. We started on this journey by moving our process guides from Excel to Access. However, it has not stopped there and nearly each week Niles adds additional features to our database.

Now, each process guide includes a trend chart of gram weights and a quality log. This week, we will be launching a verification process that will close feedback loops between the production floor and engineering. This will allow for continuous improvement in the context of the historical trends and current processing conditions. Additionally, I have found the quality log to be an outstanding tool for keeping improvements organized. We have a pull-down menu with categories including material, tooling, and scrap. We are able to keep track of incremental improvements of individual products and quickly pull all changes within the category for a broader overview of improvements.

This week, Niles is going to add bill of material to the category list because cleaning up the bills is one project for this year. I'll be able to quantify each change and document this in the database by part. At the end of the project, I will simply need to print out the changes and be able to show our boss the impact of the project.

In addition, Niles is developing flags in the system. He has an automatic schedule checker that ensures we have a process guide for every product on the schedule. Products without process guides are listed in an email that automatically gets sent to the necessary email addresses.

We have described our program as an infrastructure for change and are continuously thinking about how to improve the infrastructure and how to use it to improve the processing of our products.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Foundation-Building Versus Fire-Fighting

Each day, we only have so many hours available to us.

We are able to choose how to spend those hours.

My experience in business over the last decade (yeah, that is hard to believe) has led me to conclude that too much time is spent on fire-fighting and not enough time is spent on foundation-building.

What are some examples of fire-fighting? Perhaps, it is the quality issue that reoccurs every few months (or years). Some quick fire-fighting fixes the problem for the moment but it comes back again. Or maybe it is dealing with the latest, super-hot quote that requires rummaging through packets of data and using various calculators to determine the necessary inputs for the costing system.

So why is fire-fighting so attractive? It offers the opportunity to be heroic - to save the day. In the midst of many fires, sometimes the only possible reaction is to fire-fight. And of course, it requires a fire-fighter.

I wonder if the time spent on fire-fighting would be better spent on foundation-building. Sure, results might not be immediate. The return on investment might be a month, year, or decade (gasp). However, eventually, that reoccurring quality problem would no longer be a problem. The customer would input his or her own design parameters on a website and obtain a quote immediately. Eventually, the time spent on putting out fires would be used to continuously improve.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.