To be effective in any pursuit, one must understand its objectives and influences. One influence, typically, has a greater impact on process performance than all others – the dominant characteristic of the process. The five main categories of process dominance are worker, setup, time, component, and information.
Processes require tools tailored to manage the dominant characteristic; this set of tools comprises a process control system. The levels of Operations Management at which the tools are employed, or the skills and responsibility for process performance reside, differ among the types of dominance.
This installment of “The Third Degree” explores categories of process dominance, tools available to manage them, and examples of processes with each dominant characteristic. Responsibility for control of processes exhibiting each category of dominance will also be discussed in terms of the “Eight Analogical Levels of Operations Management.”
The supplement shown in Exhibit 1 provides a summary of the five main process dominance categories, with examples of processes that typically exhibit each. Process control tools in common use and the levels of Operations Management at which they are typically employed are also given. Readers are encouraged to reference the summary table while reading the following discussion of process dominance and during process development activities.
The lists of tools and processes provided in the supplement are representative, but not exhaustive. A process development team can apply the concept of dominance to a unique system by recognizing similarities to established processes. History of successful control of “traditional” processes can inspire confidence in the ability to create an effective control system when similar characteristics are encountered. Analyzing the unique properties of a new system informs decisions to modify an existing control system or to develop new tools for monitoring and control purposes.
Worker-dominant processes rely heavily on the aptitude of individuals to achieve quality and consistency. Technical competence can be attained with training and assessments of various types. Less obvious, and more difficult to measure, is an individual’s level of engagement. Engagement is effected by a person’s satisfaction with the work, the environment (both physical and psychological), compensation, opportunity, and other factors. When considered for a group, these factors influence assessments of morale.
Management Controls, as a tool for worker-dominant process control, refers, primarily, to an organization’s policies that ensure fair and respectful treatment, commensurate compensation, equality of opportunity, and other influences on morale. Management Controls are typically discussed as written policies and often generalized to “the Employee Handbook.” However, unwritten “rules” and expectations are equally, if not more, important than documented policies.
Its unwritten rules are the foundation of an organization’s culture and culture defines the terms of members’ “psychological contract.” A psychological contract consists of unwritten, and often unspoken, expectations of employees and the employer; both positive and negative aspects can develop. When in balance, disruptions are minimized and workplace relationships remain productive.
Worker-dominated processes are controlled, primarily, at the Ground level, via self-management by individual workers (i.e. diligence, conscientiousness). Crop Dusters assist by implementing improvements that enhance safety and productivity, contributing to sustained morale. Drones are responsible for oversight, managing performance and expectations of both workers and higher-level managers.
Setup-dominant processes are characterized by time-consuming or complex startups, followed by stable and reliable performance for large batch production or other long period. They are made more efficient by means of setup-reduction efforts and tools, such as SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Dies) and rapid inspection methods for first-piece verifications.
Process startups require a skillset that differs from that required for efficient production. Therefore, in some cases, it may be advantageous to dedicate a setup-focused individual to setup-dominant process startups to maximize repeatability and minimize downtime.
Time-dominant processes are subject to “drifting” of important parameters. Tool and equipment wear, temperature, chemical composition (i.e. ratios), and other gradual changes can effect long-term process performance. Control of time-dominant processes relies on various types of equipment maintenance, periodic verifications of output, and responsive (minor) adjustments to compensate for any drift in process parameters.
Responsibility for control of time-dominant processes is, almost exclusively, the realm of Crop Dusters. Engineering Controls, such as flow meters, pressure switches, relief valves, and thermistors are used to monitor process conditions and prevent hazardous conditions or catastrophic events between adjustments. Monitoring and adjustment are the keys to time-dominant process control; both are defined in another Engineering Control – work instructions.
Component-dominant processes require strict control of inputs to prevent malfunctions or defective output. Receiving inspection and sorting can be costly and, therefore, should be last resorts or used only in emergency situations. In-process poka-yoke devices are preferred, though high reject rates are detrimental to process performance.
To prevent defective components from effecting a process in either of the above-described ways, two key control methods should be employed. Supplier development assures that proper control systems are in place at supplier facilities, thereby obviating receiving inspection, sorting, process deviations, and product returns.
The best control of component-dominant processes comes from applying the principles of “Robust Design.” Robust Design minimizes the sensitivity of a process to variations in its inputs. Therefore, less stringent specifications are required, reducing the reject rate and, consequently, cost of components.
Control of component-dominant processes has been “assigned” to Drones and Hot Air Balloons. At these levels, sufficiently isolated from day-to-day operations, solutions with broader implications can be pursued. For example, improved supplier performance with respect to one component may carry over to other products; that is, other processes are improved without significant additional effort. Future programs may also benefit from a partnership developed in this way, securing long-term prosperity for both parties.
Information-dominant processes require control at all levels of Operations Management. A modern economy runs on information that is timely, accurate, clear, and concise. Information travels between all levels of Operations, suppliers, and customers, both current and potential.
The extensive reach of information makes it difficult to overstate its importance. In many processes, information is a product, or output, derived from several inputs of information and analysis. This could scarcely be anything but an information-dominant process.
Processes with physical outputs and service-centric processes require accurate information to provide the product or service expected. Dominance, in these cases, is determined by the magnitude of the influence of information relative to any physical activity that takes place. For example, order-picking is information-dominant because production of the physical items has already taken place. Item identifications, locations, quantity, due date, and shipping address – the information content – outweighs the physical activity involved in successful execution of the process.
Understanding process dominance helps focus a development team’s efforts on the most efficacious tools of process control. Early identification of the dominant characteristic simplifies planning and resource allocation decisions. Other influences cannot be ignored, but to ensure sustainable process performance, the dominant characteristic must be well-understood, closely monitored, and effectively controlled.
For additional guidance or assistance with Operations challenges, feel free to leave a comment, contact JayWink Solutions, or schedule an appointment.
[Link] Juran’s Quality Handbook, 6ed. Joseph M. Juran and Joseph A. De Feo; The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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