A common resounding theme that we continue to come across while researching innovative manufacturing methods is the concept that simplicity drives excellence. In many ways this is also at the core of a value stream mapping exercise... what processes and methods are in place that simply create additional activities without creating true value from the customer perspective?
A few months ago we were helping a company implement root cause analysis methods. As with many organizations, even simple problems were not fully investigated to find the root cause because it was easier to create a "patch". This patch often included additional end-of-line inspection. There are two serious problems with this... the problem kept on recurring even though it was usually (not always!) caught, and a significant amount of labor, other material, and overhead was already added into the assembly by the time it was caught. A double cost whammy. To add even more cost, the patch was not 100% effective, therefore additional patches were added over time.
Discussing this effect led to a value stream analysis of a couple processes. The flowcharts were very telling... patch after patch had been added with the result being that a relatively simple process had over 50 steps. Value-wise, the process took over 2,000 minutes of which only 180 were truly value-added from the customer's perspective. It was an eye-opener, both in terms of the value of taking the time to do a root cause analysis, but also of the power of simplicity.
A similar case often exists with ERP/MRP systems. The desire to control and analyze is almost genetic with manufacturing, engineering, and finance folks, especially when there's a perception that an operation is out of control. This often leads to huge investments in massive software systems to analyze and schedule every minute aspect of a process. If the process isn't optimized first, it can also analyze and schedule every minute aspect of a process that may not be necessary in the first place! Coincidentally this is also one pitfall of using six sigma methods without doing lean manufacturing first... you may optimize an unnecessary process. Taking the time to make the process as simple as possible in the beginning oftentimes eliminates the need for high-powered scheduling systems. Some very large lean-oriented companies, such as Toyota, actually have very simple scheduling systems, often relying on simply visual pull/kanban cues.
Simplicity creates excellence.
"Any fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction." - Albert Einstein
"Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity." - Plato
"Making the simply complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." - Charles Mingus
"Embrace simplicity." - Lao Tzu