One factory’s current problem is another’s potential failure mode
Does your organization benefit from lessons learned? Does it learn from previous quality issues? A vast amount of learning takes place every day in every manufacturing facility. Do global manufacturing companies share experiences gained from resolving quality issues between overseas plants? And what will they gain if they do?
What are lessons learned?
In project management nomenclature: Lessons learned is the learning gained from the process of performing the project. We learn from our own project experiences as well as the experiences of others. Sharing lessons learned among project team members prevents an organization from repeating the same mistakes and also allows it to take advantage of organizational best practices. Learning should be deliberate. Organizations should be prepared to take advantage of the key learning opportunities that projects provide. Unfortunately, capturing lessons learned too often is seen as optional… if time permits.
Advantages of information sharing in quality
Huge benefit could be gained if we applied these project management principles in the industrial sector. For example, in a global company with many manufacturing sites across the globe working on the same line of products, sharing day-to-day quality issues in the production line would not only raise the level of awareness of quality and process practitioners, but also save the company a lot of time and money by avoiding repetition of defect detection, root cause analysis, correction, and corrective action. In addition, process improvements developed in one factory are easily transferred across the company, and projects can more easily be ramped-up in multiple facilities.
Remember, one factory’s current problem is another factory’s potential failure mode. So reviewing issues resolution data from a similar production line elsewhere can provide ready-made research material for your next improvement project or cost-avoidance preventive measures.
A lot of global organizations apply the same principal to health and safety issues, such as sharing accidents that happened in one site with all other divisions. This lessons learned awareness report helps avoid the repetition of such accidents in other sites.
But one thing you will notice about these types of reports is that companies typically only share the accidents that have the highest impact, e.g., fatalities or severe injuries. However, according to the United Kingdom’s health and safety executive, every work-related fatal injury has a corresponding 4,400 no-fatal injuries that cause lost working days.
Building on that, if a company has a system in place for sharing quality defects, their causes and the corrective actions taken, most of the focus will be on issues classified as high severity, and the trivial other—no matter how many there are—will stay internal. This will deprive other facilities from gaining the experience in handling the issues that might eventually give rise to more serious issues.
So it’s important to share not only severe events, whether in health and safety, or quality, but minor events as well. Addressing small quality problems before they happen can have as big an impact, or bigger, than only sharing data about large quality lapses.
What would the process look like?
To maximize learning from plant to plant, organizations should have an infrastructure in place to acquire and socialize operational information—a lessons learned process. The purpose of a lessons learned process is to define the activities required to successfully capture and apply lessons learned. Often organizations have a defined process for capturing lessons but do not include activities to ensure lessons are used. The lessons learned process can be summarized into two main parts: capturing and then applying lessons learned. Capturing lessons learned includes identifying and documenting the lessons. Applying lessons learned includes analyzing, storing, and retrieving those lessons. The more discipline and effort you place in capturing of lessons, the more prepared you are to apply the lessons learned.
Example for capturing lessons learned
For example, a global company works in the field of electrical power projects and has a tool to capture and resolve customer dissatisfaction with its products and services.
Every employee has the responsibility to capture any customer dissatisfaction of which they become aware and to submit it, using this tool, to assign the unit best-suited to resolve the issue and to provide the customer with contact information for the resolution of the issue.
It’s a simple tool with a single web page form that includes:
• A simplified capture section (customer and/or project data are easily imported from the company’s ERP system)
• A short, unit assignment action section
• A detailed completion section (e.g., root cause analysis, correction action, preventive action)
The tool also provides easy-to-use reports and data export for those wanting to develop more complex reports. A search capability is available with criteria such as product, failure mode, and specific problem description.
With free access granted for all employees working in different countries, everyone can easily find an issue they are having and follow the issue resolution steps successfully implemented by another team in a different site.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement, especially with the development of artificial intelligence (AI), which may add the ability to automatically direct the complaint’s author to relevant complaints previously created in the same context based on the comprehension of the user’s input.
Unpredictable market changes and rapidly evolving technologies force organizations to utilize technological advances to respond quickly to problems and prevent those problems from spreading. Sharing lessons learned is a key method to ensure operational excellence and manufacturing sustainability. Using simple tools that anyone can access means that we don’t have to operate in silos, and everyone can benefit from the lessons learned by others.
1. “Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain, 2017,” UK Health and Safety Executive, 2017.