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One Company’s Story: Accelerate Management Results Through Practical Operations Science Training

A major aerospace company trains over 300 line and management employees to advance existing programs

The case study is of a major aerospace company whose repair and overhaul (R&O) business generates over a hundred million dollars in revenue each year. Executives in the R&O business have achieved great success in decreasing lead times and cost while improving on-time delivery by applying the fundamental operations science of Factory Physics concepts. The success was accomplished without hiring legions of consultants or instituting copycat initiatives from other companies.

Training in the practical operations science and math of Factory Physics concepts was provided to leaders and to hourly personnel to re-enforce and improve existing efforts. No need for a new initiative.

At one time, the company embarked on a software solution to manage all the complexity in R&O operations.  For those not familiar with Aerospace R&O, there are huge amounts of complexity in disassembling, repairing, assembling and testing parts from jetliners. Commercial jetliners have millions of parts. There is so much complexity that the company culture is to frown on the label of “manufacturing” as applied to R&O. “Manufacturing” is a term the company’s employees associate with repeatable parts and processes. The software solution promised performance optimization but the result was a disaster with work-in-process (WIP) levels through the roof and skyrocketing costs.

No Consultants
To their credit, the R&O operation’s managers figured out a solution on their own. Rather than spending millions of dollars on consultants or copycat initiatives from some other company, they implemented a very powerful concept. Limit the amount of time that any one part could spend in an area (part cycle time); don’t wait for “high priority” jobs. Don’t constantly reshuffle the schedule. There was still prioritization of jobs allowed but the limit on part cycle time (which was a performance measure for each area) greatly reduced reprioritization.  Ultimately, total part cycle times dropped over 50% and costs were reduced significantly.

This success was the result of working with the natural behavior of operations systems—concepts fully described by the practical science of operations. Many consultants—in large consulting companies and small—do not understand this science. There are many examples of bad consulting advice. While good consultants can be very helpful, it’s far better for experienced managers and employees to understand the science of operations on their own and determine the best options for their business.

Training Advances Performance Using Existing Resources—a (Relatively) Low Cost Approach
One manager in the company was familiar with Factory Physics concepts and recognized the part lead time control strategy as an application of Little’s Law (Cycle Time = WIP/Throughput). While the control of part cycle time was one way to achieve results, there were ways to tune the approach to get even better results. This manager brought in Factory Physics Inc. to provide operations science training for his area. His group went back and applied the concepts and achieved large performance improvements, for instance, a 50% reduction in cycle time. The manager got promoted.

Now managing much of the R&O operations, the executive and his managers believed they needed to provide more extensive training to support existing management initiatives and to strengthen performance improvement efforts. The training was not to be a new initiative and that point was emphasized in the training. The company had done the standard Lean and Six Sigma training and wanted to avoid the appearance of a new initiative—rightly so in view of the buzzword fatigue that companies often suffer.

The process for constructing the Factory Physics R&O training was to:

  1. Spend time with the client to understand their processes, lingo, and culture
  2. Put together training material including slides, games, and collaborative exercises that explained the concepts of operations science in the context of the Aerospace R&O business
  3. Pilot the training with a group of managers and line technicians
  4. Adjust and roll out training to the wider organization
  5. Record feedback from each training session and adjust if needed
  6. Use the training concepts to generate specific actions for implementation afterwards

The two-day training included math and science—that was the point. Management had confidence in the ability of the technicians and managers to adapt the concepts to their work. There were also Excel exercises. However, there were indeed some who suffered from the math phobia that is all too common. There was also a very diverse range of Excel skill levels. To overcome these obstacles, a number of things were done:

  1. Exercises were put in an R&O context
  2. All exercises had both an Excel version and a handout version.
  3. The formulas were provided as part of the exercise. This was not an attempt to stump the participants by testing what they did or did not know.
  4. Answer sheets were provided for all exercises once the exercise was completed.
  5. Participants were encouraged to complete the exercises in groups rather than individually.

All workshops were kicked off with a short talk by an executive describing how the training fit with management strategy. During the training, there were active collaboration games where the concepts were tested as part of an operations simulation—it’s always best to conduct active participation games or simulations after lunch. Nothing quite so painful and sleep inducing for participants as PowerPoint slides after lunch.

The Results
While over 300 people were trained, the number of people trained was not the goal. The goal was to help management re-enforce the operations control strategies that were in place and look for ways to improve. Each class was asked to evaluate the training. The different modules were assessed and the scores averaged. The ratings started at 1 – Not Helpful and went to 5 – Very Helpful.

trainingresults.jpgAs shown in the bar chart, the results were very good. Getting a 3.96 average for a class on practical operations science is an excellent result. A common reaction is for people to think the operations science training is going to be too theoretical and not applicable in practice. Of course, there were some for whom the training was a stretch. One participant’s quote was, “This doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have any processes, I repair parts.” There are always naysayers and the intent is that the mass adopters will bring those along. The majority of training participants were primed to form a large cohort of educated, informed adopters. As one of the Continuous Improvement staff members described the training ratings and feedback, “Those would be good results for any of our training courses.”

Some comments from the participants:

  • “Good topic to educate masses so that they understand decisions being down to them.”
  • “In my opinion, this course may be one of the most useful [this company] has tried compared to all the other ones we have been through.  This one [sic] we can actually apply the principles.”
  • “Actually more informative than expected.  At my job I see the results of WIP, TH, etc. but never knew how we got there.”
  • “This time was well spent, heard all this before but this pulled it together.  Explained the how and whys better.”
  • “The class did a great job in polishing Lean 6 Sigma philosophy and correcting the associated dogmas.”
  • “This has been one of the few company classes that supplied info that I can directly implement in my work areas.”
  • “For the 'Hands on Guys' the games gave us a hands on approach and makes learning much easier.  Learning straight out of a book isn't as easy when absorbing new material.  Overall the class was very informative and will help us understand the overall picture with more clarity.  Many thanks.”

Ed Pound is Chief Operations Officer of Factory Physics Inc. Ed has worked with major international companies such as Intel, ABB and Baxter Healthcare providing education and consulting in the practical operations science of Factory Physics concepts. Ed’s work has helped companies realize millions of dollars in improvements and make operations and supply chain management easier. Ed is lead author, along with Dr. Mark Spearman and Jeff Bell, of McGraw-Hill’s lead business title Factory Physics for Managers.

For more information on operations science, CSUITE Operations Analytics and Factory Physics training and services, send an email to Ed at espound@factoryphysics.com or call us at +1.979.846.7828.

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