A common topic of discussion in many companies is how to document and share what has been learned as they improve their processes.
The most common approach is some kind of database (either online or on paper) that documents the various “best practices” solutions to various problems.
They might, for example, show the before and after of the development of a work cell, how their visual controls are set up, or a particularly clever tool or gadget they developed.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, these bits of information turn out to be far less useful than people think they should be.
Why is that?
Let’s back up a bit and look at a larger scale.
Toyota, and other companies that are doing these things well, have all been pretty open about letting people come on and see what they are doing.
Other companies seeking to benchmark these companies then want to find one that faces similar types of problems, say “low-mix / high-volume production” or similar process flows.
Our community has developed a sense of what a “lean system” looks like. We express it in terms of the solutions to problems that have been developed.
Clever tools or gadgets.
But we also (hopefully) know that seeing examples of these things with the intent of copying them doesn’t really help that much.
Oh, they can be copied… but the track record for sustaining is pretty poor.
Nope, we know (again, hopefully) that it is not about the solutions, but about the process of solving the problem. In other words, it is the method used to develop the solutions that is important to grasp. Seeing the solutions after the fact actually gives very little insight into how to develop the skills required to do it yourself, or sustain it yourself.
OK, back to the original topic.
IF we know that copying another company’s solutions doesn’t work very well, and that we need to instead get a grasp of the thinking process that resulted in those solutions, then what should we be sharing internally, and how should we be sharing it?
The classic way to share is with a single page that says “Before Kaizen” on one side, and “After Kaizen” on the other. There might be a space for “problem” but when it is filled in, the words are usually pretty superficial. 85% of the space is devoted to a couple of pictures.
Even if it does state the problem clearly, it still doesn’t get into the process used to solve the problem.
Nor does it get into what was learned about the process of solving problems.
Now… before you leap in and say “Sure, that is what an A3 is for!” I will agree with you. Except that unless an A3 is written with that specific purpose in mind, most of the ones I have seen tend to do little better than the Before-and-After pages. Or they are so full of charts and graphs that they are really impossible to follow.
In other words, they are too complicated to convey the message, because the intended message wasn’t clear when they were developed..
It really comes down to intent.
If you are trying to share, be crystal clear on what you are sharing. What are you trying to communicate?
I believe it would be far more valuable to depict where your problem-solving process was faulty, what mistakes you made, where you went back and corrected yourself, and what you want to pass along about problem solving.
That would be a far more useful for the next person to come along.