Change can be difficult. Operations can be finely tuned and streamlined for expected jobs, but as soon as changes are required – whether due to customer requests, requests from your own people or simply because of circumstance - productivity can take a nosedive. If disruptions caused by change aren’t identified and addressed quickly, delays can eat away at the bottom line and put SLA and quality targets at risk.
The answer is to implement a robust production change control system that enables both the early identification of changes – or potential changes - and the successful communication of cause, effect and solution.
Implementing Production Change Control
It’s important to understand how change is typically initiated and managed. All too often a production change starts when an operator, supervisor or engineering team member identifies an issue on the production line—like an unexpected material or a different configuration - and ends when a solution or workaround is implemented.
Changes should be documented so that problems can be addressed efficiently. A good production change process feeds information back to production control about problems on the production line and then applies that information to current and future plans.
The following tips outline how to create manufacturing change processes that work.
Tip 1: Collaboration between client-facing, engineering and production teams
- Create an environment that encourages a strong relationship between your client facing, engineering and production teams.
- Cross-functional teams can participate in the production process by spending time on the production floor, getting face-time with line workers and leads and receiving feedback and comments which can be used to improve processes.
- Leveraging the operators’ experience may also help uncover issues faster - potentially even before they impact production.
- Additionally, by walking the line and observing the process, engineers may be able to identify areas for improvement, both in the line and in product design.
- Involving production and engineering in testing new products early on means they can provide input before the product or change goes live.
Tip 2: Make it easy to communicate
- Provide easy ways for everyone to discuss production problems and to request changes so you can address issues on the line in an efficient manner.
- Encouraging and facilitating face-to-face contact between teams will provide opportunities for information exchanges to happen naturally. But because client facing and engineering teams can’t be on the floor every minute of the day, it’s important operators and supervisors have other ways to document and share needs for a production improvement or change.
- Communication is important across the whole end-to-end production process. In this way, you can avoid problems up and downstream, keeping the entire production process in check by providing easy ways to communicate problems on—and off—the line.
Tip 3: Keep your change cycles short.
- With short change cycle times you’re more likely to maintain your production goals.
- Create change boards that include key stakeholders and make it easy for them to participate in the change process.
- Changes can be reviewed and approved quickly. This doesn't need to always be a formal meeting - if the criteria to submit a change is clear and robust then virtual change boards can take place using email or video calls to speed up the process.
- Implementing a triage process that evaluates each request in terms of urgency and impact will help prioritise change requests and prevent the process becoming a frustrating bottleneck.
- Above all it's vital to keep the originator of the request informed on progress to prevent frustration and contempt for the process. If production staff feel change processes are not working the risk is that they will make temporary changes that may permanently impact the quality of production.
Ultimately, the goal is to process production mail and messages as cost-effectively as possible to the required SLAs. Problems in production can increase costs, damage margins and threaten quality and compliance standards. Addressing such problems efficiently, and in a way that future-proofs the operation, is critical.
Change management is not simply a reactive process. Proactive change can drive improvements, but such thinking can meet resistance and delay simply because of fears over the level of disruption that change may cause. But with the right production change control process, any operation is in position to continually optimise performance. Eliminating fear of change unlocks the true potential of a business.