Jim left a great post on The Whiteboard way too long ago.
His problems seem to sum up to these statements:
Every valve is hand made one by one in batches through several processes.
…about a 10% turnover rate…Consequently we are always training new people…the supervisor needs to make sure the worker understands the job
My inclination is to somehow explain to the owners how their employee turnover rate is hurting their production and quality.
He titled his post Hitting The Moving Train which seems appropriate on a number of levels.
Keeping in mind that I have not done my own "go and see" so I don’t have facts from the ground, only what is reported, a couple of immediate things come to mind. Other readers (especially the couple of dozen of you who never leave comments!), feel free to chime in here.
Short term: Stop the batching. Or, more specifically, flow the batches. The key point here is that just because you run batches doesn’t mean you can’t run one-piece-flow. (Pardon the double negative.)
What does that look like here? For each batch of valves, understand all of the assembly operations, set up an ad-hoc flow line that sequences all of the steps, then run them all through.
This does a couple of things, first and foremost, it gets them off the shop floor and shipped a hell of a lot quicker because now they are DONE. The downside is the supervisor needs to teach more than one person his particular sequence steps, but it eliminates all of the routing, traveler paperwork, tracking, prioritizing, and other stuff associated with having those 50 incomplete valves sitting out there. Scheduling becomes "Which jobs are we going to set up and assemble today?"
What about the parts? Don’t start assembling until you have all of the parts.
"Wait a minute, what about just-in-time?" One thing at a time. Let’s not launch a job until we have the capacity and capability of actually doing it for now.
Next, (Intermediate Term): is make the supervisor’s job a bit easier. I am assuming that, since he is training the workers, that he understands the tasks. But does he have formal training on how to break down work into steps and instruct in a way that someone remembers how to do it? Rather than reading a book about it, I would strongly suggest contacting the TWI Institute and getting, first, a handle on Job Instruction. This is, essentially, standard work on how to break down a job and teach someone to do it. The method has been taught unchanged since mid-1944. Not surprisingly, it is bread-and-butter at Toyota… and their material is pretty much verbatim from the 1944 material.. and it is the origin of standard work as we know it.
As jobs are broken down, the inherently critical tasks should emerge. These are the things which must be done a certain way or the thing just won’t go together (bad) or will go together, but won’t work (very, very bad). Those key points are where to start instituting mistake-proofing, successive checks, etc. This will start driving toward stomping out the quality issues.
For each quality issue that comes back to bite, take the time to really understand how it was even possible to make that mistake, and focus a problem solving effort on that key point to (1) incorporate it into the teaching and (2) mistake-proof and successive-check that particular attribute. Defects discovered in the plant are bad enough. Defects discovered by your customers are another story. Do what you must to keep the defects from escaping, then work on preventing them. Don’t cut out inspection just because it is muda.. unless you are 110% certain that your process is totally robust, and any problem that does occur will be caught and corrected immediately. Anyone who thinks Toyota "doesn’t do inspection" has never seen the last 60 or so positions on their assembly line… nor have they seen the checks that are continuously being made during assembly.
And finally – the turnover issue. A couple of things come to mind. First, with the right attitude and approach, the things described above can make this a lot more interesting place to work… especially if the Team Members are involved in finding the solutions to escaping quality issues, etc.
The same goes if supervisors continue to hone their leadership skills. Employee turnover is typically caused as much by the relationship with the first line supervisor and working conditions in general as it is by wages, etc. Southwest Airlines would not exist were that not true. Neither would a couple of other companies I can think of. Go look at "The 100 Best Places to Work" and see that relatively few of them cite "the highest pay and best benefits in the area." This isn’t to say that they do not offer fair, competitive compensation. But compensation, in general, is a relatively poor indicator of job satisfaction. Far more important is a daily demonstration that someone cares and is committed to the Team Member’s success.
If they really like TWI Job Instruction, they might be attracted to Job Relations – standard work for supervisors (first line leaders) for people issues. The TWI Institute has also just launched a new program called Job Safety. This isn’t one of the original TWI classes, but it was put together by experts I know and trust, and from what I have read, it follows the same reliable method format.
With all of that, perhaps the owners will be convinced that a competitive compensation program is a way to say "Thank you" to a great team that busts their butts to keep the customers happy.