Xynegen Corporation is a company that deals with the production of chemicals for a wide range of uses. For a long time, the company processes have been effective although due to increase in competition, and the need for a competitive advantage over our competitors, it has become imperative to improve business practices.
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After a review of the results from last year’s employee survey, the senior leadership team identified several areas of improvement. The biggest issue that was identified was quality and safety management in the production department.
In the last five years, the numbers of lab accidents that have occurred within the company have been unacceptably high. Last year alone, six employees were seriously hurt in the process of carrying out their duties. An employee survey carried out revealed that quality and safety issues are the biggest challenges that the company faces in delivering its products.
In order to find a solution for this problem, it was decided to undertake process improvement through benchmarking as a means of finding a solution for this problem. This report explains the benchmarking process and a description of the methods that will best serve this company.
Selection of Process
Form the employee survey carried out, the management team identified quality and safety in the production department as the main processes needing improvement. This benchmarking procedure will focus on these two processes and develop a plan to be applied in improvement. It is the intention of this report to research the best practices that can be applied to solve the quality and safety issues in the company.
State-of-the-art Organizational Process Improvement Practices
In order to understand the best practices to be applied in this company, it is important to review process improvement practices that have been successfully applied in other organizations.
In order to achieve this, I first decided to talk to the company’s employees in order to understand their views on what practices they thought could be applied to solve quality and safety issues (Camp, 1989). I then sought management employees from other companies to understand what practices they applied in their companies to tackle the issues of safety and quality.
Most of these companies operate in the same field as Xynegen but some of the companies chosen were from a different field. Finally, a research of literature pertaining to process improvement was undertaken to reconcile collected information and process improvement theories used in management (Hutson, 1992). From this process, several process improvement practices were identified. The improvement practices have been described below:
Business Process Mapping
One of the main process improvement practices being carried out in the field is business process mapping. Process mapping is a technique used in Six Sigma that aims at understanding the steps involved in carrying out a process, and identifying ways in which to improve this process (Breyfogle, 1999).
Most of the companies that utilize process mapping use the ICOR technique. ICOR (inputs, outputs, controls and resources) is a widely used process planning methodology that allows processes to be divided into simple, convenient, and more easily comprehensible units (Tague, 2004).
The process maps describe the inputs, outputs, controls and resources for both high level processes and low level sub-processes. There are various steps involved in the construction of a process map. First, it is important to brainstorm all the processes that regularly takes place within the scope of a process (Tague, 2004). Brainstorming is an activity that should involve both the management team and the employees themselves.
The next step involves grouping these activities into about 5 sub processes. Next, the sequence of events and links between these sub processes should be identified. Finally, the high level process maps and the low level process maps should be identified and availed to the various stakeholders (employees and the management team).
Process maps present a dynamic view of how an organization can improve its various processes more effectively and in a safe manner. Using the maps, a “what if” scenario can be quickly developed through comparison (Breyfogle, 1999).
Pareto analysis is an analysis technique used to understand ideas resulting from brainstorming activities. Pareto Analysis is used to identify those tasks that result in the overall effect being looked at. In quality improvement, this analysis uses the Pareto principle that holds that a large percentage (80%) of problems is as a result of a small number of key causes (20%) (Tennant, 2001).
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This technique is mainly used in situations whereby a variety of possible causes of action are applicable. To solve a problem, this technique requires one to approximate the advantages offered by each action, then select a few of the most valuable action steps that will offer an overall benefit that is practically close to the optimum possible benefit.
The technique helps in the identification of the main 20% of causes that are required to solve 80% of the problems (Tennant, 2001). After identification of the problems, the Ishikawa diagram can then be utilize to identify why these problems occur.
The Pareto analysis uses various steps to identify the main causes resulting in a given problem (Tague, 2004). The first step involves developing a list of causes and the frequency that they occur as percentages. The causes are then arranged in a descending order with the significant causes being listed first.
A cumulative percentage column is then added to the list. A graph is then plotted with the cumulative percentage in the vertical axis and the causes in the horizontal axis. The points in the list are then joined to form a curve. A bar graph is also plotted using the same axes (causes in the horizontal, percentages in the vertical).
A line is drawn at the 80% point in the vertical axis parallel to the horizontal axis (X-axis). At the point at which the 80% line meets the curve, another line is dropped to meet the X-axis. This line separates minor causes on the right with the important causes on the left. This is the Pareto chart that will be used to identify the main causes for a particular problem.
Ishikawa diagrams or the cause-and-effects diagrams are used to show the root causes of a particular problem (Dunn, 1996). Various processes are grouped into several categories to identify whether they are the root cause of a process problem. These categories include the 8 Ms in manufacturing and the 8 Ps in manufacturing.
Since this company is a manufacturing company, the 8 Ms of manufacturing will be used and they include: machinery, method, material, man-Power, measurement, milieu, management and maintenance (Tague, 2004).
When looking at safety and quality issues, several questions have to be asked in order to identify the root of the problem (Breyfogle, 1999). Under machinery questions to be answered include:
- Was the proper tool used?
- Does the machine meet the requirements?
- Is it up to process competencies?
- Does the environment have any effect on the equipment?
- Is maintenance carried out regularly?
- Is the machine the best tool that can be used for the company processes?
Under methods, the questions to be asked include (Breyfogle, 1999):
- Did the employees receive adequate procedural training?
- Are there any aspects of the process that can be considered expendable?
- Is there any capability study on this process?
- Does the work standard utilized in this process conform to modern methods and theories?
- Have any changes ever been introduced to the process?
- Are the details within the process relevant to safety clearly laid out to the operators?
- Do the employees understand the operating instructions completely?
When looking at materials, we consider information, raw materials and consumable (Tennant, 2001). Under this category, important questions to be answered include:
- Is all relevant information accurate and available?
- Is it possible to verify this information?
- Does the company have a material Safety Data Sheet?
- Was the material testing carried out appropriate?
- Was there any substation done on the material?
- What handling procedures have been laid down for the material?
- Do the quality requirements meet the acceptable standards for the material’s function?
Under man power we need to ask the following questions (Dunn, 1996):
- Did the operator interpret the documents correctly?
- Is the flow of information effective?
- What degree of decision making was required for the process?
- What types of distractions, if any, exist in the workplace?
- Can employee fatigue be attributed to poor performance?
- What level of work experience does the employee have?
- Does the employee have any medical issues?
- How many instances of errors have been reported about a particular employee?
- Is the employee responsible and is his work efficiency up to company standards?
Under measurement we need to know (Dunn, 1996):
- Are the gauges used to measure the chemicals, processes, and materials accurate and appropriate?
- Do the measurements utilize change significantly when used on different employees?
- When taking measurements, does the environment affect this process much?
- Do the employees have difficulties in using the gauges instituted?
- Do the employees take into consideration the date of the gauge calibration?
Under milieu (environment) we need to ask the following questions (Tague, 2004):
- Do changes in environment affect the process?
- Is there a need for environment control when carrying out the process?
- Does the external environment e.g. unsuitable lighting, heat etc. adversely affect the employees?
Under management, we need to answer the following questions (Tague, 2004):
- Does the management involve the employees in the various process steps?
- Does the management have appropriate levels of education and training?
- Does the management team carry out all their relegated duties?
- Does the management team pay a close look at the past and eliminate previously identified risks?
After answering these questions plus others that specific to this company, it is possible to narrow down the root causes of the problem and thus identify the required changes. The Ishikawa diagram is one of the best tools currently used in the review and identification of the root causes of problems in a given process.
This is a simple document used in gathering real time data at the point where this data is generated. It provides a means data collection in a structured manner as a method of evaluating a process (Breyfogle, 1999). Data is collected by making marks against predetermined categories of measurements or items on this document.
When looking at safety and quality issues, items and measurements connected with safety and quality within a given process or task, are noted on the check sheet. This allows one to systematically gauge whether the items are efficient to achieve the desired objective. The check list simplifies the tasks of analysis.
Problem Solving Methodology (DRIVE)
DRIVE (Define, Review, identify, Verify and Execute) is a technique used in process improvement that involves problem solving and analysis (Hutson, 1992). It involves various steps that help the management team understand the process and the problems that have been identified. The first step in using the DRIVE approach is definition. This involves defining the scope of the problem, identifying the criteria that will be used to measure achievement and finally describing the success factors and deliverables (Hutson, 1992).
The second step involves reviewing the current situation, understanding the background of the problem, collecting relevant information and identifying problem areas plus areas of improvements. The third step involves the identification of solutions to the problem or required improvements to the process. This step also involves identifying changes that are required to enable and sustain the selected improvement steps.
The fourth step involves verification. It requires the verification of the ability of the improvements to result into benefits that conform to the defined success criteria. It also requires the prioritization and piloting of the improvements. The final step is the execution of the improvement steps. It requires the planning of the implementation of the improvements or solutions, consensus on how to implement them, the actual implementation, planning a review and gathering feedback.
This technique requires an in-depth understanding of the company processes and also needs a lot of research to find out the various problems and possible action steps (Tennant, 2001). It is suitable for production and manufacturing companies but can also be used in the service industry.
Selection of the appropriate tool
The identified methods are the main techniques used in process improvement in modern companies. Considering this company and what it entails on achieving, I would recommend using the Ishikawa diagram technique as a means of process improvement. The senior management team has already identified safety and quality as the main problems that need to be solved.
This can be best solved using the Ishikawa diagram whereby the various categories involved in the process will be investigate and the main points of concern questioned. After this, it is possible to understand the best way that can help us improve quality and safety in the organization.
The Ishikawa diagram offers the best method of understanding the safety and quality issues in the company and the best way to tackle them. It is therefore my recommendation that the Ishikawa diagram should be used to identify the root causes of the quality and safety after which appropriate changes should be instituted as per the identified causes.
Breyfogle, F. W. (1999). Implementing Six Sigma: Smarter Solutions Using Statistical Methods. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons
Camp, R. (1989). The search for industry best practices that lead to superior performance. Michigan: Productivity Press.
Dunn, R. (1996). Productivity Standards: A Survey of HIM Professionals, Part II. Journal of AHIMA, 67(6): 61-63.
Hutson, G. (1992). Cause, Effect, Efficiency & Soft Systems Models. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 44(4): 333-344.
Tague, N. (2004). “Seven Basic Quality Tools”: The Quality Toolbox. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: American Society for Quality.
Tennant, G. (2001). SIX SIGMA: SPC and TQM in Manufacturing and Services. Aldershot, UK: Gower Publishing, Ltd.