The Beauty of Simple Processes

The Beauty of Simple Processes

We face many problems in manufacturing due to unnecessarily complexity.  Working through process improvements, I tend to get to the heart of an issue quickly.  At the heart of most problems are simple processes.  The beauty of simple processes is they build on themselves. 

The Thought Experiment

Last year, I started a thought experiment in one area. I asked several machine operators the core aspect of their job.  Initially, the machinists stared blankly and said making good product.  Then we discussed what that meant.  Many said they would load the material into the mill and make sure the part was good after machining.  Then I would ask what could go wrong.  The machinists said anything could happen most of the time.  Then I would ask about a more specific part of the process, and they would say a million things.  We were making progress from infinite things to just a million.  By the third or fourth round, they would meticulously explain the entire process.

Basic Concept of Machining

The basic concept of machining is taking raw material, loading it into a mill, loading a program and measuring the part.  It is more complex, but for this article that is the beauty of simple processes.  The raw material must meet specific requirements based on the expectation and drawing.  Loading the raw material into the mill consists of properly holding the material and ensuring the material is located properly.  Next, loading the program to turn the raw material into a finished part.  Finally, the machinist will measure the part to ensure all the requirements were met.

The Fundamental Tasks

What are the fundamental aspects of this task? At first the responses encompassed a wide range of activities, concerns, checks, and double checks including parts that should not be included. After discussing the fundamental task at a given moment, we broke that task into a smaller element and repeated the process. The task became more manageable but still had pieces that didn’t quite belong. We worked on a third round of breaking each task down.  Then we formed a discrete list of checks that should happen during each step. Each step only consists of about ten problems that could occur. If we controlled those ten items, we could produce a good part.

The Immediate Aftermath

I asked other people to review the outcome of the experiment.  The response was that we should already be doing these tasks in the way they were presented.  The reality is that we had not systematically thought about what we were doing in any rigorous way.  Once we started looking at the operation rigorously the quality improved.

There were no celestial alignments, 4-D chess moves or earth-shattering breakthroughs.  We just simply broke down the task into fundamental elements. Once all the unnecessary complexity was removed just simple processes remain.

Other Examples of Simple Processes

By comparison, the fundamental aspects of this essay could be paragraphs which is a great place to start.  Each paragraph can be composed differently. The sentence then the word and finally the letter or punctuation mark becomes the fundamental aspect to this essay. By getting to the letter or punctuation, you could create any combination of sentences or paragraphs. War and Peace used the same characters as this essay.  While the outcome is completely different the fundamentals are the same. I will not attempt to explain the mathematical beauty of fractals.  Repeating simple patterns to create incredibly complex structures is common in nature. By finding the fundamental components, we can then compose a wide variety of simple processes that are only limited by the creativity of the composer.

The Final Aftermath

So back to our unnecessarily complex process, we were able to determine when a problem was getting ready to occur by following a very simple diagram. The diagram had the key functions to be performed at each step. If those key functions were performed when they should be, the chances of a defective part would drop dramatically. The disciple to follow the simplified process is the key to keeping the defect rate exceptionally low. Once the process is fully outlined, then it becomes an exercise of reiterating the discipline to follow the recipe for success. That is the beauty of simple processes. They work efficiently and effectively.

Your Own Simple Processes

Let me know about some simple processes that you have been involved with.  Were you able to get to the core of the issue?  Did you help solve the problem?  If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.