“What do you do for a living,” a neighbor asks. As I try to explain about GBMP’s attempts to help customers improve productivity and quality, my neighbor interjects with a smirk, “Oh . . . you’re an efficiency expert.” He thinks I walk around holding a stop watch, trying to find ways to make people work faster. “Well,” I respond, “we try to improve SYSTEM efficiency, not just local efficiency.” About this time, he has zoned out, not particularly interested in the distinction I’ve made, and he changes the topic to football (see yesterday’s blog post.) I’ve written more than a few posts over the years about the difference between local improvement and system improvement. Here’s one more.
Lean Peeve #3 is Local Efficiency.
Alluding to the stopwatch, I’ll begin with the definition of efficiency: standard time / actual time X 100%. This is the one you’ll see on your ERP system. Say that I’m machining PARTA with a standard time of 60 seconds. That standard was measured by someone with a stop watch to determine that fastest repeatable time for the operation. But I actually take 65 seconds each for this lot. My efficiency is 60/65*100% = 92%. Simple enough. However, PARTA is two levels deep on the bill of material of the final product sold to the customer and is therefore essentially decoupled from actual need by weeks or longer. My efficiency is not based on the ability to provide what the customer needs, but on a standard that rewards me ala Lucy-in-the-chocolate-factory to go as fast possible. Consider the implications of this definition of efficiency in context of the metaphor. What would happen if each person in the canoe pictured paddled as a fast as he or she could? (Having been in the Boy Scouts, I know what happens.) That’s classical efficiency, or, as Toyota calls it, local efficiency. SYSTEM efficiency would have everyone paddle at the same rate (call it Takt time), which is pretty evident in a canoe.
But let’s take this idea back into the factory: I have just completed an order for 360 PARTA’s, built according to my MRP (based on EOQ, fixed lead-time, pan-size, safety stock and a raft of other order modifiers that will be the topic of a later post) with an efficiency of 92%. These will subsequently be sub-assembled in a different department according their MRP requirements and ultimately built and shipped to the customer in a still different quantity from either upstream process, each department operating at high local efficiencies. There are no colliding paddles as in the canoe metaphor, just lots of squandered capacity and excess inventory.
What do you think of the SYSTEM efficiency is in this example?
It turns out that where efficiency is concerned, the whole is not necessarily equal to the sum of its parts. In fact, in a functionally organized workplace (ironically set-up as such to maximize local efficiency) we can expect system efficiency to be far less than the sum of its parts. We can all be paddling as fast as possible, thinking we’re doing great – but the boat is going in circles.
Speaking at a Shingo Conference some years ago, my friend and mentor, Russ Scafede, who was a senior manager at both GM and Toyota during his career, reflected this way on local efficiency: “At General Motors, we use to joke that all of our divisions were making money; it was only the corporation that was losing its shirt.
How do you measure efficiency? Share a story.
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