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Are you proactively shaping your focused improvement process or is it evolving organically?

Author | Andre Jordaan, Pragma Partner Consultant

Focused improvement (FI) is the overarching process used to improve an organisation. This might mean either reacting to a defect or making an improvement in the management of physical assets – the assets, processes and activities that enable a company to achieve its goals.

 You might have an FI process that, in your opinion, is working just fine and is being improved as and when the need arises. But is it really good enough for your business? As a consultant specialising in FI I have often met clients who are satisfied with their improvement process, only for them to backtrack after being asked a few questions or seeing what ‘good’ actually looks like.

Once an organisation and its processes have been established, FI is the most powerful tool the organisation has to drive performance improvement, eliminate waste and increase profitability. So, why not be intentional about it?

The benefits of a proactive approach to FI

What are the benefits if you are intentional about FI?

  • Only an intentional effort of improvement would ensure that the process is fit for purpose. Only if you’re intentional would you consider whether:
    • the scope of the projects considered fit the demand of the business, and
    • the process and methodologies fit the scope considered.
  • Intention would improve the process
  • Only an intentional effort of improvement would track and monitor the improvement, ensuring the improvement is effective and thus sustained.
  • An intentional effort of improvement would ensure that the process is Only if you were intentional in your improvement efforts would you deploy benchmarking to identify shortcomings. This would ensure the process is:
  • most effective, ie it addresses the major issues and focuses resources on the right work, and
  • most efficient.

How to gauge the state of your company’s FI

Consider these questions if you want to be intentional about improving your FI or at least establish if your current FI process is good enough.

  1. Have you defined the scope of your FI process, and have you implemented triggers for each of the elements?

The whole of section 10 in ISO 55000 is dedicated to improvement. It is quite extensive in its interpretation and scope and certainly noteworthy to consider. It teaches us that improvement either stems from something that is not meeting expectations (ie is in a state of non-conformance) or from something that can be or must be improved. The non-conformance can be anything from an asset not lasting its expected lifetime to a process that is not good enough or fast enough.

ISO 5500x, however, also extends the scope to more than just assets. It includes the management system and indeed the whole of asset management. So, we could also consider whether the elements and processes supporting the production and maintenance process and its assets are non-conforming or need improvement.

Once the scope has been defined, you would have to ensure that triggers are set up for each element of the scope. Such triggers could be derived from the analysis of production or CMMS data, audits, suggestion boxes, loss and waste analysis, etc.

  1. Do you have a mechanism to prioritise which improvement initiatives should be done?

Resources are limited, and organisations need to focus improvement effort where it will yield the biggest return. You need to consider all non-conformance and improvement activities as per the scope above and have a mechanism within the different domains to prioritise the projects to be done. If the FI function had different processes for different levels of effort and complexity (see point 3), you would also need to indicate which project would be cycled through which process.

The criteria should always stem from value, but might be translated into more practical indicators such as:

  • repetitive failures per month > x, or
  • downtime > y hours.

Scope plays a big role here. If the scope is defined narrowly, you could be working on the most important project within that domain of the scope but it might pale in comparison to an adjacent, up or downstream problem/opportunity.

  1. Do you have well-defined processes for projects of different complexity and severity?

Not all projects need the same amount of effort and time to resolve. Not only should the solution fit the problem, but so should the process of getting to the solution. Sometimes a temporary solution for the problem is good enough. Top companies often have two different processes to address and resolve problems or opportunities of different complexity and severity. You could have a more involved process to treat the big, complex problems and a quicker, less intense process for the simpler or less severe problems.

Each process should be defined, mapped, resourced and measured. Process definition is essential for all the role players to work coherently towards the solution. It will also form the basis for training.

  1. Do you have a set of methodologies to fit different kinds of problems effectively?

Abraham Maslow wrote, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails.” So often we find people doing a root cause analysis for an improvement project.

You need to recognise the range of problems you would typically encounter and the best analysis and solution tools for each. For a functional failure of an asset, a causal tree analysis might work best, but where it stems from either a functional failure in the people or systems environment, it might need to be complemented by a MORT (Management Oversight and Risk Tree) analysis or by considering the Types of Human Failures. For a functional failure of an asset or process, you could start with a Change/Event analysis, carefully analysing the changes leading up to the event. For a process related problem, you would consider process analysis, and for the solution you might need process re-engineering techniques. Analysis methodologies such as 5 Whys, Fishbone diagram, DMAIC from Lean-6-sigma, Taproot and many others could also be useful depending on what fits the problem and environment best.

For optimal use of funds and effort, don’t only consider defects. Consider opportunities for improvement as well. This is why we use the term ‘Focused Improvement’ instead of the more restrictive term ‘defect elimination’. Your naming convention would obviously depend on your scope. Improvement opportunities has no defects and therefore require no causal analysis.  It would however demand a design methodology be followed. Defect elimination types of projects often end up requiring design methodologies as well, especially where the root cause indicates that the demand or environment has changed.

  1. Are your staff well equipped, experienced and trained for the task?

A chain is as weak as its weakest link, and so often the weakest link is the team driving the process. Good companies train their staff in processes and methodologies. Inexperienced teams need experienced staff to coach and mentor them through the critical stages of the process.

  1. Are you measuring the improvement process?

Companies often fail to put a management system in place for their FI process. When commodity cycles or the economy hit a downturn, companies are quick to lay off process teams simply because their value was not made visible. Management needs insight into the effectiveness and efficiency of the process. Measuring how many projects are in process at any point in time, where they are in the process, how long they take to get resolved and how many resources they consume are but some of the measures that give management great insight into the process and its efficiency.

Financial measures such as the combined ROI, IRR or NPV of the portfolio of projects delivered over a period of time are excellent in the continuous justification of the process and the team involved in it. Companies need to measure the effectiveness of each project, ensuring that the actual value is realised, sustained, and even rolled out to other parts of the business. This seldom happens without a concerted effort and measuring mechanism for it.

  1. Who takes ownership of the improvement process (ie leadership)?

As the saying goes, “Fish rots from the head down.” Leadership for the asset management system is recognised as paramount by ISO5500x. Someone needs to take ownership of the process. Large mature companies have investment panels that approve and fund projects through a stage gate process. They need to ensure the optimal (efficient and effective) use of their investments. An individual, however, needs to take the responsibility for the process and report on it to the investment panel. It is this ownership that will ensure the process be fit for purpose and improves continuously.

Make FI intentional in your business

In the dynamic landscape of modern business, the difference between merely surviving and truly thriving lies in the strategic approach to improvement. Proactive, intentional efforts in FI enable organisations to not only rectify defects but also to harness opportunities for growth and excellence. By asking the right questions and implementing robust methodologies, you can transform your FI process into a powerful driver of performance, waste elimination, and profitability.

Read more about Pragma’s approach to FI here.

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