Anatomy of a Realsearch Process

Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

To pick up right where we left off last month . . . On the surface our work this year is aimed at discovering a set of generic principles which can be used to design highly adaptable business practices - in any part of the enterprise. A set of ten principles developed over the last few years provide our starting hypothesis; and are being tested against real live operating practices in 3-day workshops at eight companies. In short - we seek to build a physics of adaptability that can be employed effectively by business engineers.
    I said "on the surface" because there is a deeper activity going on. This current focus on design principles is part of a continuing series of "Discovery Workshops" engaged in what I defined as realsearch last month. Realsearch (as opposed to research) employs real people addressing real problems in real time to develop or increase a useful body of knowledge that they can employ immediately. Thus, workshops are structured to achieve specific knowledge-development objectives, and employ people from business and industry who want that knowledge so that they can apply it to their own perceived needs. We provide the analysis methodology and the focus, site-hosts and outside participants bring the raw data and opportunities. Everybody wins, and we turn intuitive knowledge into codified understandings that can be diffused throughout a corporation. We focus on principles for thinking people, not on roadmaps and recipes that offer no room for competitive interpretation.
    At this writing we have completed the first two workshops in this series of eight - LSI Logic outside of Portland, Oregon provided the first site in April, and General Motors just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania provided the second in May. To the extent that space permits, we will display the results of those examinations here in subsequent months.
    We will set the stage this month by describing the process; suggesting that it is in its own right as interesting as the change proficient concepts under analysis.
    In each of the first two workshops we analyzed two highly adaptable business areas and then applied the learnings from this analysis to a third area in need of help - and - importantly, of specific interest to all participants. Ten to fifteen participants from other companies join with five to seven participants from the site in order to broaden the generated knowledge and objectivity.
    In the first of the three days we discuss three pre-reading assignments that are directly related to the three areas we will explore, developing a general understanding of the change-related issues that must be addressed. On the second day we examine the two areas offered for analysis and develop detailed change proficiency requirements addressed by each area, and identify the underlying structural approach that enables the observed high change proficiency. On the third day we apply the learnings and observations from the first two days to a real live major problem.
    A structured analysis approach is employed to ensure that the objectives are met, and that the desired data and knowledge are identified. The structured approach brings everyone into the analysis process and generates documentation from the collective activity. At the end of the workshop participants have a set of workshop conclusions for reference. Each participant, however, is expected to reach his or her own individual set of conclusions - consensus is neither required nor desired.
    General Motors - Our workshop in May took us to the West Mifflin (suburb of Pittsburgh, PA) metal fabrication plant. This plant uniquely specializes in small-run, high-variety, service parts such as hoods, quarter panels, doors, and other stamped and welded metal fabrications, principally for GM's Service Parts Organization. Small quantity orders strain traditional operating modes for profitability, while high variety puts a big strain on tool and die management and on manual operations.
    Al Hall, general manager for this plant, was GM's loaned executive to the Agility Forum in the '93-'94 time frame, bringing back an increased awareness of change proficiency to this already change-oriented plant.
    The three areas explored at this plant were:
    1) The "Pittsburgh Universal Holding Device": Body panel check fixtures presented a particular problem to this plant - 700 plus fixtures, with more coming, required a prohibitive amount of storage space. The financial climate did not permit a capital intensive high-technology solution, like the new laser machines offer, but relief had to be found. The plant invented a unique modular fixture scheme that utilizes a common grid-work base plate with part-specific holding "details" that snap into "retainers". Details are machined in-house quickly and inexpensively, and then stored in a shelved shoe-box sized tray. Classic Reusable/ Reconfigurable/ Scalable concepts are evident in the design and provided an ideal case-study for identifying underlying principles.
    2) The "A Assembly Line": This line consists of highly adaptable cross-trained people and highly reconfigurable workstations and process layouts - assembling hoods, deck lids, fenders, and body sides for 60+ different vehicle models all on the same line - with welding, hemming, adhesive application, and press-piercing as principle processes. Typical part runs range from a few hundred to several thousand. Most of the fixtures and processes were developed at the plant in order to efficiently accommodate such high variety.
Though our analysis looked at individual workstations, fixtures, and process areas, the focus was on the total A-Line process concept rather than on individual elements.
    3) Knowledge Capture and Mobilization: After extracting the underlying adaptability principles we then focused on a real problem: turning this plant's innate tacit knowledge about highly adaptable process design into explicit knowledge that could be transferred effectively to new employees and perhaps employees at other GM plants. A universal problem of current interest made tangible by the real need at this plant to find a solution.
    Rather than trivialize our findings across three very rich subject areas now, we will attempt to focus individually on each with separate essays in the coming months.
    LSI Logic - Our workshop in April took us to Gresham, just outside Portland, Oregon, to visit with LSI Logic - an ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) outsource company that was the first of the fab-less (no internal manufacturing) semiconductor houses. Thus, they take orders for semiconductors from other semiconductor firms, like Motorola and Intel, and then assemble a team of subcontractors to manufacture, assemble, package, and deliver the goods. They manage this subcontractor team formation activity from their facility in Hong Kong. Today they still meet customer requirements by quickly assembling a custom team of subcontractors, but have since added internal fabrication facilities of their own to the mix. Now, generally, they design and produce the wafers that have some hundreds of separate semiconductors on them; and then send these wafers to other subcontractors for dicing, testing, lead application, and final packaging.
    The Gresham, OR location is in fact their newest fab and still under construction. That facility will employ manufacturing information systems based on change proficient architectures developed and refined by Steve Benson, a long-time and serious participant in the emerging field of Agile systems structures. Steve was the host for the first workshop, and as LSI logic’s World Wide Director of Manufacturing Systems is responsible for the factory information architecture. As this factory is not yet live, we did not examine the information architecture. Our analysis is focused on real in-place practices, not those on the drawing board. Instead, we investigated two landmark practices for underlying change-proficiency principles and then applied these principles to the problem of large program management - specifically the $1.5 billion plant-start-up at Gresham.
    The three practices explored at LSI Logic were:
    1) Coreware: This LSI-developed tool streamlines the creation of custom-designed ASICs. A Coreware designer stitches together a new application-specific integrated circuit from reusable sub-circuit "core" modules, adding only that new material not already in the reusable module library. Coreware is employed by LSI engineers working to varying degrees with customer engineers to design the final circuits - offering significantly more robust designs in shorter times - major benefits in an industry dominated by first-to-market economics.
    2) Sub-contractor Technical Network: The central operating unit for the company is located in Hong Kong, and, in essence, assembles a new virtual enterprise for every order. A pool of internationally-located subcontractors specializing in various aspects of post fabrication operations is coordinated and managed by an evolving network of communications, scheduling, and support services that provides the enterprise glue for a newly assembled production team.
    3) Complex Program Management: After extracting the underlying adaptability principles we then focused on a real problem at hand - again one with general and broad interest. The Gresham manufacturing facility is a $1 Billion + project in process, expected to begin test production in August and revenue generation at year end. The date for scheduled production was pulled forward by six months only a few months ago. Teams responsible for plant construction, equipment acquisition and installation, process and clean-room support, production automation systems, hiring, training, and many other critical functions have to coordinate and reprioritize daily activities in concert to bring this new facility on stream predictably. In short, this is a complex program management activity with many co-dependent groups that need to respond to a major schedule change. A boiling dynamic right up to the day of production.
    No, this isn’t a free lunch - neither for the host nor the visiting site-team. And "No", we don’t solve these problems in the one day we look at them. But we clearly open the door to some valuable paths to follow. This is serious work with serious pay-off, and serious commitment. Participants do pre-reading on analysis procedures for each of the three areas explored at a host-site. Some are selected to lead short discussion periods on specific readings. There’s homework in the evening. And everybody wrestles with new concepts in unfamiliar territory.
    But in the end we all expect to advance the state of knowledge about change proficient business systems, and have the advantage of personal and deep insight into the foundation. The host-site has the added advantage of seeing change-proficiency principles emerge from familiar processes; something that should help the internal diffusion and application process when they attempt to apply these principles to additional business processes.

1997-1998 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #032 - Originally Published 6/97 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications


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