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Fix The Problems, Not The Symptoms!

Fixing problems can seem hard, there is always a momentum resisting change. Is it better though, to spend time and effort to fix the symptoms of the problem? Quite honestly, no.

The UK had a lot of rain recently, but, the growing season is coming around again and the greenhouse is only partially complete, so the week-end was spent outside digging in the mud, again. The next door neighbour comes along, sarcastic comments expected, but no, the discussion turned to the husband’s hernia, which may or may not have been excavation related, and which had been left untreated for more than 18 months, a victim of health service waiting lists.

Even though the hernia is not necessarily life threatening, it cannot be very comfortable to live with. There are the restrictions of what can be done physically, diet, the pain suffered continuously, the cost and side effects of the drugs prescribed and taken to relieve the pain, the cost of care and visits to and from the health service. This is only the start. There is then the risk of further development of the problem. A non-urgent hernia today can easily become much more serious if it grows bigger or the “flow” gets restricted.

The UK’s National Health Service has at some point decided that all of this is acceptable, rather than simply clearing the backlog of cases. Clearing the backlog would mean more cost, more operating theatre time, more surgeons which clearly they thought was out of budget. Some fundamental facts however were ignored, specifically the growing cost of the care of those waiting for operations and the growing cost and complications of the operations as the hernias become worse and more difficult to operate on over time. There is also the administrative cost managing the list of people who have the condition and their changing circumstances. What about the cost to the government paying benefits to these people who may not be able to continue working?

The choice was made. It could alternatively have sorted people out straight away, got away with minor operations with no significant need or cost of the treatment of symptoms and no losses due to people’s incapacity. The “lean” approach as we know it now would be to understand the number of hernia operations, which must be more or less constant, to create mini-operating theatres dedicated to hernia operations that met the demand, at a much cheaper cost than full “ready for anything” theatres. Reduced cost, reduced pain, where was the down-side? Perhaps too radical a thought at the time.

The mini-operating theatre idea came to me as an analogy of the cell production environment in electronics production. In production, there are also pains, there are symptoms, and there are Band-Aids and bandages put around difficult issues which bring costs and restrictions with what can be achieved operationally.

The challenge for production today is that the world is changing. Long term forecasting is giving way to short term flexibility demand as the point for sale moves ever closer to the factory door. The factory will ultimately need to bear the task of making whatever is wanted whenever it is requested, pretty much responding to raw customer demand. Not good then to have many work-arounds related to pains and symptoms restricting in what can be done, what can be changed. These pains, like my neighbour’s hernia, needs to be addressed at source and symptoms eliminated. Manufacturing needs to be fully fit in order to be successful. The Valor software provides the opportunity to the factory to address the market challenges by eliminating the legacy constraints with tools such as Process Preparation, Lean Material Management and SMT focused Production Planning, and part of the Valor suite. If only then this application of Lean thinking could rub-off on the UK’s and other countries’ health services, perhaps our lives would be a whole lot more productive and pain free…

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About Michael Ford

Michael FordMICHAEL FORD SENIOR MARKETING DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, VALOR DIVISION, MENTOR GRAPHICS Michael started his career as a computer software and hardware engineer in 1982. Working for Sony in the UK, Michael became one of the first successful adopters of computer technology into the manufacturing shop-floor, going on to manage in Japan Sony’s global Lean Manufacturing solutions. Joining Valor Computerized Systems in 2008 gave Michael the opportunity to apply his experience into the main-stream of the industry. With almost 30 years’ experience, Michael’s key strength is the instinct of finding solutions and opportunities where there had been challenges and problems. Michael is currently working as part of the Marketing Development team within the Valor Division of Mentor Graphics, focussing on the realisation of real and practical solutions for manufacturing based on the application of Lean Thinking, end to end, from design through the entire manufacturing process. Visit The Michael Ford Manufacturing Blog

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