Process Discipline

[Post by Chuck Krugh, October 14, 2022]

While process discipline may not be the most exciting topic to write about, it is essential for peak manufacturing performance. My definition of peak manufacturing performance is when the manufacturing system produces high-quality products that are repeatable and on the predicted schedule. In addition, a good manufacturing system also makes the team’s job easier and promotes more job satisfaction since the team can meet their targets. Expectations set and achieved usually make for a good day!

Before we talk about what process discipline is, we need to differentiate the “plan” from “planning.” Both have an important role to play in the manufacturing system.

The plan is most easily defined as the “when” we do something. Another common word used interchangeably with plan is schedule. If you think about it, it takes thousands of small plans strung together to form a shipbuilding master plan or master schedule. This sequence of events is like sheet music for the conductor of the orchestra. If followed, it produces great music. Similarly, if we follow the plan, then raw material goes in one end of our manufacturing system and a powerful, high-performing Navy destroyer comes out the other end.

Another important part of understanding a plan (schedule) is the order in which we build. The proper sequence of the items in the plan or schedule is critical for the successful outcome. The destroyer that we build is extremely complex, has a long cycle time and requires many trades to be in and out of the ship during ship construction. Sequencing the ship build requires attention to detail and a high level of accuracy – as well as lessons-learned or after-build reviews to evaluate how well we did coupled with some patience to get it right. It’s very challenging to get the sequence right.

Planning in my manufacturing experience is defined as the “what” we do in order to build something. It’s the step-by-step instructions required to cut, fit, drill, weld and assemble a component. It’s usually broken down into a series of operations under a work order, and usually tagged with the labor hours associated with the operation. Following the instructions in the right order and hitting the labor-hours target will lead to an efficient build that meets the schedule required. At BIW, production work orders are the planning.

So what is process discipline? In the purest sense, process discipline is the unrelenting adherence to planning – ultimately leading to a build on schedule. As I described, the plan defines “when” we are going to accomplish the build. The planning defines the “what” we are going to do to build something – ultimately a ship. Unrelenting adherence defines an attitude or learned behavior that is unwavering in following the planning. Process discipline drives peak performance in the manufacturing system.

One of the key ingredients for peak manufacturing performance is the plan. Schedules make workflow predictable.

Work plans or schedules come in lots of flavors, but plan of the week (POW) and daily work plans (DWP) are among the most common. Leaders create these plans to organize the work into week-sized and day-sized blocks to manage complex projects, like shipbuilding. These work plans are made up of many work orders. By organizing the work this way, the leader can communicate their expectations clearly to the team for what needs to be built and when it should be accomplished. With clear expectations, the team can get the work done!

It takes discipline to prepare the POWs or DWPs, as well as to execute the planning – the work orders – inside each one of the plans. Process discipline forces you to complete the steps in the planning so you drive toward your plan. Staying on plan will get the big bean, rather than giving in to temptation to deviate from the plan to get the little bean at the wrong time!

Process discipline leads to the production of high-quality products with no rework. You can usually tell when operations isn’t working well by the amount of rework, traveled work to the next station or excessive work in process (WIP) that you see. Often the system is out of balance – meaning the timing or sequence of work is not in the right order. For example, one area of your line running too fast creates unnecessary WIP in the system; running too slow causes other lines to wait for work.

Today, in the yard, we can see places where we are out of balance. As we become more process disciplined, we will see less rework, less traveled work, reduced WIP and new levels of POW achievements each week. One of the best parts about watching this happen is the increased sense of accomplishment we all will have – a big morale boost – as we see these improvements each day and each week.

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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