Remove Barriers to Productivity - An Old/New Concept, Stage 1 of 5

Our blog on short-interval-scheduling (SIS) pointed out how SIS is one of the least promoted, underutilized, yet most effective methods to manage work. There is a complimentary process that we’ve never come across in any operation nor turned up in our Best Practices research. We call that process Barrier Removal. Meaning removal of barriers to productivity: operating problems. Those chronic work snafu’s that eat up so much time: material or equipment not ready available, wrong or no drawings, missing authorizations or permits.

Barrier Removal is not led or sponsored by an organization’s manufacturing or industrial engineering group. It is not the focus of continuous improvement specialists like Lean or Six Sigma practitioners.

Barrier Removal is an operations management led process supporting Key Process Indicator (KPI) review and corrective actions. It is an on-going process of problem (barrier) identification and correction (removal). Its implementation always has a measurable and sustainable improvement in productivity and the accompanying benefits: reduced cost, increased reliability, etc.

How It Works:

Using SIS, the work progress is checked at regular intervals during work execution. The intervals might be hourly for high speed production lines, at the end of shift for plant turnarounds or weekly for design engineering.

At that interval, actual progress is compared to expected progress based on “good operating conditions”. When actual performance deviates from expected by a predefined percentage, action is required.

The logic is that since the expectation (volume or time to complete) is based on good conditions, the only reason there is a deviation is that some problem or “barrier” is getting in the way. The action required is to identify and fix the problem. Stabilize the situation. Correcting the immediate condition completes the core SIS cycle.

The ground rule is act first, then write. Document what just occurred, while memories are still good. Identify what happened, its apparent cause, the lost time (and other impacts), the current date and identify the job/process on which the problem occurred. Then categorize the incident using assigning a pre-defined problem code. In a maintenance environment, these codes can include searching for material, special tools not available, waiting for equipment availability.

Each coded incident is entered individually in a data based. Then regular, periodic Pareto charts are generated based on the problem codes. The Pareto charts can be based on frequency of each code or total lost time by code, or both. The reports are published with the weekly Key Performance Indicators and become part of the KPI reviews.

During that review process, management picks out the top codes for further examination. The objective is to eliminate recurring problems permanently. Top codes are assigned to problem solving teams for investigation and recommendations.

The team investigates each incident. Accessing the underlying data, they interview individuals involved, solicit their input and perform initial root cause analysis. The teams frequently develops a second Pareto chart for their assigned problem code where they are finding different root causes. In other words they have sorted one code into sub-codes, or categories, based on initial root cause. Where they can, they take action on root causes solving problems they can address.

The categories in the second Pareto chart, the underlying root causes, become the targets for more focused problem solving (see our blog on Problem Solving). New participants can be brought into the original team or new teams formed where individual root causes need a different skill set to resolve.

Progress of all the teams is tracked and reported back to the KPI reviews. The teams work the solutions through implementation and testing for effectiveness. The Six Sigma DMAIC followed by post implementation testing is the strongest disciple.

An Example:

In the electrical transmission industry, Construction Units (CU’s) are the building blocks to compile labor, material and time estimates for new capital projects. Each CU defines the specifications, time and costs for individual components of, say, a substation. It estimates how much time equipment installation would require per circuit breaker, capacitor and so on.

In this example, our client’s CU’s were developed by averaging time required over the last six installations of that component. This logic is good for establishing budgets and developing annual plans. It does not help us here. It is not the number with which the construction crews should be managed during execution nor can it flag lost time. Lost time was included in the CU. Here we altered CU’s for use by the crews to reflect “good operating conditions”. (How we did that is the topic for another blog!)

The new CU’s were implemented using SIS and the Barrier Removal process. During implementation our client found that installation of new guyed mast anchors was consistently taking longer than expected. A team was assigned to investigate.

They found that components of the equipment had not been manufactured to contractual specifications. Field crews, hurrying to meet schedule dates, would modify the equipment in the field but, in that same rush, had not informed engineering or procurement of the deviation.

The time to perform that field modification had been built into the CU and institutionalized in the field as SOP! It had become so routine that special tools for performing the field modification were included in the standard material lists for the job.

Comparing “good operating condition” time to actual time here uncovered a wasteful situation. We reduced construction costs by holding the manufacturer to the contractual specifications.

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