Improve Efficiency by Finding Bright Spots

You know the adage: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. When it comes to improving efficiency and effectiveness, that adage may… or may not… be the best approach. Sure, squeakiness is an indicator that something may not be right and applying a bit of oil may head off catastrophe (see also “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in the adage file). However, we often are so focused on negative occurrences and fixing things that aren’t working that we fail to see the bright spots – bright spots that may hold a key to improvement.

If you’re like many plant managers, you spend a lot of time putting out fires and dealing with things that aren’t working. It’s true that Lean, Six Sigma, 5S and other approaches to manufacturing efficiency are structured to eliminate the need to be the fire chief, but reality is that processes don’t always go as planned, machines break down and employees don’t always follow procedure. Those negative occurrences typically take precedence. And we’re not suggesting that they shouldn’t, but let’s take a minute to look at this from the opposite perspective.

For example, you survey ten employees and you discover that seven of them are struggling with keeping up with the established pace. It’s a typical human reaction to focus on the seven, the ones with the problem. But what about the three who are meeting or exceeding expectations? What about these bright spots? Maybe our reaction should be to focus on them first to determine why they’re having success rather than studying the seven who are failing trying to figure out why they’re struggling.

It’s “bad is stronger than good” psychology. If your child came home from school with a report card containing one A, four B’s and an F, where’s your immediate focus? Like most parents, it’ll be on the failing grade rather than on the successes. Your thought is: Something is broken (i.e. the F), and it needs to be fixed. The immediate solution seems to be to study and work harder in that class.

In reality, maybe we should be focusing on what is happening in the other classes that are garnering good, even great, grades and replicate that. Many plant managers know the 5 Why drill when it comes to uncovering a problem, but few apply that same thinking to learning about success – what caused things to go right, to be efficient, to be profitable.

Let’s apply this thinking to the three employees who are meeting or exceeding production pace. Why are they exceeding? Because they’re faster. Why are they faster? Because they’ve reduced their reach for tools. Why did they reduce their reach? Because they reorganized their work spaces. And the process continues until you understand how and why they’re succeeding. Once you know that, you can work on replicating that and scaling it to improve performance department- or company-wide.

And if you’re the parent dealing with the failing grade, maybe it’s time to ask why the other grades are so good and replicate the success rather than exhibiting a knee-jerk reaction to the F. Okay, the knee-jerk reaction is normal, but remember there’s valuable information that can be gleaned from the bright spots. Good luck.


Contact us to learn how the MPower system can help you identify your bright spots, so you can begin replicating them.