Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The third in a series of articles following the implementation of Lean Manufacturing in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 to a Medical Equipment Manufacture

The summer is nearly over and go-live is getting terribly close! The emphasis over the past month has been a combination of practice, practice, practice and trying to pin down the inevitable last minute fixes and occasional items which, somehow, have been hanging around for months but still need a final decision.These little surprises are designed to test the nerve of the most experienced implementer and no matter how hard we try to pin down every possible circumstance, unplanned cases and new scenarios often emerge only as a result of using the new system in action for the first time.

This tends to take us back to standard work and whether the steps we have identified can stand the test of repeatability and clarity. In the earliest stages of the implementation, processes tend to be painted with a broad brush: what is it the business actually does, how do the parts interact and how can we apply the tools in our toolbox in the most effective manner?

Once the broad picture has been painted, we move into the minutiae: agreeing the exact steps in a order process, identifying the codes we use to identify individual types of transaction and getting into the detail of data, its migration and how each individual field will apply to the new system.

The final stages need to strike the balance between the two: we know the broad picture and we know the detail so what we need to do next is provide a clear and unambiguous set of user instructions - standard work if you prefer - which breaks the process down into ‘bite-sized chunks’. Lean practitioners are already familiar with this approach and it pays dividends for two good reasons: the brain finds it easier to absorb small pieces of information at a time (well, mine does) and it is far easier to change one small part of a process than reissue the whole volume, both in terms of retraining and the sheer effort of ditching one version and replacing it with another. Even in this world of SharePoint, getting the message around can be slow and imperfect.

It is inevitable that variations, exceptions and even new processes or sub-processes will crop up at the last minute: people cannot remember every circumstance and sometimes only a chance remark or an order from that difficult customer who insists on a special delivery or a modified document triggers a person to remind you that we really need to go back to that process which we thought had been nailed-down months ago. But, if you have good standard work, broken down in to simple instructions in discrete steps, then even a last-minute change of process stands a good chance of being picked-up and understood by everybody who needs to use it.

Now, where’s my to-do list...

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