Research was held up. Tech service work was delayed. Lab personnel felt put upon and misunderstood. Both customers and lab people could be downright nasty to each other. We were asked to convert this “havoc” into a high performance process that would provide accurate, timely results to the customers’ satisfaction.
- First, we interviewed all constituencies to determine their needs and expectations.
- Next, the data had to become trustworthy. We revived and reinforced SQC practice; results were validated independently, and data were posted for all to see.
- Third, we tackled the timeliness issue. A cross-functional team of testers, submitters, managers and IT personnel drew up requirements and nice-to-haves for how work would be prioritized, scheduled and how results would be delivered. A process was developed and implemented to meet those criteria. We measured and reported how well the targets were met.
- Fourth, customer service was emphasized. Clear expectations were set, and coaching of both requesters and providers of the data helped improve their interactions.
Results: A dramatic turnaround occurred. Accuracy consistently exceeded expectations. Productivity improved at least 60%. On-time targets moved from 90 to 95%; the team consistently delivered 97%. Customer relations and team self-confidence both rose inestimably. The testing team of technicians became self-directed in scheduling its own work, managing priorities, and dealing with customers.
The problem was to develop a smooth and quickly-running process that would compress discovery and development time to less than two years. Both the people and the technical aspects of this problem had to be solved simultaneously.
Solutions: The complexity of the situation required a focused, process-improvement approach. We trained and coached both the team (in meetings and individually) and the team leader (behind the scenes). New team skills and new project management skills were developed. The team decomposed the discovery and development project into subprojects with objectives, time-lines and ownerships. They created and adopted many tools in their integrated approach to developing the new product.
Estimate time for development
Build cross-functional team
Solve technical problems
Track resources, expenses, milestones
Share data, knowledge, resources
Marketing and cash flow projections
Team skills, leadership development,
on-going coaching, off-site meeting, develop individual accountability
Parallel investigations, criteria for go/no go on each approach, designed experiments
Shared database created in-house; regular, frequent, short team meetings
Results: The catalyst, reactor and processing conditions to make the desired product were identified within about a year and a half, a 50-70% reduction in development time. This team “self-assembled” an integrated improvement process, and also learned how and why a “real team” is the best team.
Solutions: For this type of situation, action is key. We created and trained two teams. The two lab directors jointly sponsored the teams. The owner stayed pretty clear. Each team had members from both departments. Their missions, to bring the MSDS program into compliance and to build a database of historical formulations, were critical to the company and too complex for one person to handle.
We taught basic team skills in a workshop setting. After that, the teams met weekly for two-three months with us present, and we coached them through the growing pains of accepting empowerment, becoming a team, struggling with conflict and biting off more than they could chew.
Results: The MSDS team had a working prototype of the new MSDS format at the end of the coaching process. Response time to provide a MSDS sheet was 30 minutes or less, versus the initial response time of nearly two weeks. The database team had saved thousands of dollars discovering new capabilities of in-house software, and had a working process for capturing and entering the historical data.
On the interpersonal side, squabbles were greatly reduced, some good humor was restored, and the two R&D leaders had improved their own relationships by virtue of the peripheral coaching we provided them during the process.
About halfway through the team process, the owners and directors of the firm asked us for help with their own supervisory/management/relationship skills.