Thursday, December 15, 2005

Call in the Experts, Ask your Employees

In the middle of a product comparison this morning, our management team quickly came to the conclusion that our product was second. The reaction of management seeing that a competing product was better than ours included disbelief, disappointment, surprise and fear. The fear probably motivated us the most. We did not waste any time arguing if we had a problem or not but unanimously agreed that we needed help. We needed experts so we decided to asked our employees.

The distinguishing feature that made our product lose out was our paint finish. There was some discussion by the team to call our paint supplier (expanding the team) but we did not want to delay a week in order to get them to the plant. Including your suppliers is an excellent idea and we will set that up however we wanted to start improving today.

Employees are the best sources of collective knowledge of your processes. Our painters are the in-house experts best able to improve our paint finish. A few hours later, we called a 1/2 hour meeting of the entire paint department. After seeing for themselves the side by side comparison of the products, a group discussion on the issue led to creating a fish bone diagram on the challenge. A simple statement, "What do you need to improve our paint finish?" focused the painters on improvement ideas.

Within 15 minutes, we had list of 23 outstanding improvements based on their knowledge of our processes. The painters decided which of their ideas are the top 3 that could help them the most to achieve a better paint finish. With management in the room, giving the nod of approval on the improvements, our direction was set.

The coolest part was seeing employees and management working together to solve a problem. The excitement and energy was intense as we openly talked together without reservations or animosity. This is what American business should be like everyday!

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