Friday, November 2, 2012


End of last year, I participated in a workshop on collaboration in complex situations , and how to move from a group of individuals to a self -organized team.

Based on my past experience , here is a story how in a manufacturing plant , a group of people was moving to a well organized team .

"The oil and gas industry , and special the drilling activity is a very complicated  process where uncertainty  is a major factor . Uncertainty goes from not knowing which geological formation the drill bit will encounter, with as result not knowing what the performance of the bit will be  compared to targeted performance .
Nevertheless, everything can be controlled now a day’s, so if anything goes wrong, small pieces of the system can be analyzed, corrected and the whole system will work again.
All best practices are written in policies and procedures. The whole drilling activity is a high tech mechanical process which is complicated , but easily controlled. 
In the Cynefin model  we are in the right segments of the controllable environment.
The main reason is , that it is a mechanical process, where human intervention and decision is minimum.
But the bit can be start to wear very fast ( due to change in drilling parameters, quality of the bit, formation)and stop to drill , before the desired target is met .This is the biggest uncertainty:you don’t know , when this will happen and why it has happen .Their is no time also to first examine the bit and find the cause ….what has to be done is to order asap a new bit and discuss with the design engineers.
That’s where the complexity starts: data has to be send overseas to the manufacturing plant, the design engineers has to be notified , material has to be ordered , bit has to be redesigned , bit has to be manufactured  and shipped back to the rig :the only certainty which exist is : it has to be for yesterday!!!
When you see the situation in the manufacturing plant , the situation is different :
-       First , the orders are coming from different customers, from different locations and are all other bit types.
S   So there is a very large product mix which are demanding different materials, different process times. The manufacturing processes have  also constraints: a limit of resources( labor time), availability of materials( inventory policies), and unexpected events like sickness and equipment maintenance.
At the same time there is no forecast , so there is a big uncertainty when the orders will come in and how much.
-       Also, each order has to be designed or standard models modified,and approval asked to the field for production.
      There is no certainty , that the bit will be approved or the order confirmed ,but engineering resources has to be used to design the bit and manufacturing processes in all cases.
-       The organisation is structured in departments:customer -service departments( 2 people), purchase dept ( 2 people), planning and work preparation (1), manufacturing engineering for making bill of materials  and routers( 2 people), engineering (5 people), manufacturing management ( 2 people).The availability of resources is very variable and only known by the department.
So , as described the environment is very complex by his complex communication-network, variability in order -income, uncertainty of resources and materials, uncertainty of payment , etc .
So, I will tell the story what has happened over the years and how we have evolved from a group of individuals to a team .
-      -  The different departments are sitting in ,an open space , dispersed in different locations. Sharing knowledge on what is happening can only by phone, running around  walking and talking in the corridors. The order is coming from the customer to the customer service department dept.They phone to engineering department, to gather information on the status of drawing, check materials availability with purchase and asked for a delivery date to manufacturing. Taken in consideration all this , a final date is send to the customer .So every department try to optimize as much as possible their needed knowledge, but without knowing what the other was doing , or what the overall issues were.
So it happened often , that delay’s were not communicated and  the system was going into a complete chaos .
-       - Next step was , that management was pushing to learn from each order .So every morning there was a meeting with the department responsible , where the issues of each department were discussed and also the status of the orders. Changes were announced, but there was nothing formal.
- More knowledge was shared by  interdepartmental meetings , visiting the shop, speaking with people and workers: we created a group of knowledge people.
-      -  The learning from each other was also increased by cross functional functions:Customer service, purchase , planning has been cross functional trained, to do if necessary , more than one function . the same with engineering, manufacturing engineering and planning.
-      -  The initial group, decided to formalize the meetings: all order status were put on a Excel spreadsheet, completed with information on material , manufacturing status, resource availability, etc :this has been best practices for a long time, and planning meetings has become more efficient .
-   - With the implementation of SAP, data gathering  was still better, and faster.
But still the objective was still not achieved , because the orders were still pushed trough the workshop , without knowing the issues in the blue collar system.
Therefore by applying leanmanufacturing technical, kaizen events were organized with the workers to better understand the issues.
- The same group of people , now together with  workforce decided to change completely the order system and launching system in the shop. Procedures and rules has been established, where variability could be absorbed easily.All members has been made aware of them, and responsability’s established for management of these rules.
- The result was that the blaming culture disappeared, and that there has been a total visibility of the planning system.The group had become a team , because they were focusing on the result and communication . As such every team member could participate  and organize themselves the planning meetings.
The excel spreadsheet  has been replaced by the SAP data, and a self-organized team managed by purpose , shared vision and rules.

By seeing the organisation as a whole , and not anymore a group of loose elements and functions we achieved a culture of  cooperation and self organizing , in order to achieve our common purpose . 

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