Inspired Quality Improvement: Operator Adoption Is Key to Successful SPC Implementation
Learn how a company used an SPC software pilot to expand adoption—and improve quality management across a whole plant.
It’s easy to feel that quality and process improvements are just "the flavor of the month." You invest time, effort, and resources in making changes but somehow, they just don’t last. Many organizations have seen that cycle happen too often, and it affects their perceptions of the value of solutions such as statistical process control (SPC)-based quality management software. Even though the value of SPC is proven, manufacturers may hesitate to embrace software that can help them make the most of the quality data they are collecting.
But even though resistance to change is common—even expected—it doesn’t have to derail your quality improvement initiatives. A successful SPC software rollout is a two-sided coin. The first side is the configuration of the software itself and having a well-defined data structure. The second side of the coin is equally important: it’s the people.
Having reliable quality data is vital to the decision-making process, and the people who collect that data are often shop floor operators. It’s important to win the hearts and minds of the operators who will be using the software so that they are doing something they believe in and can rely on.
This is the story of a company that developed a way to ensure operator adoption of their SPC solution and success for its quality management initiative.
Before implementing its new real-time SPC software solution, this manufacturing company had not used SPC analysis at all—not even on paper. In addition, the sample size used in their testing was not a statistical sample size representation.
That meant that implementing the new software solution required more of operators than just learning the software; they also needed to learn what SPC would tell them and how it would benefit them. In addition, to properly implement SPC, the sample size was increased, which meant operators were required to perform more testing.
A team was assigned to set up the SPC software and find a positive way of explaining the benefits of SPC to the operators and mechanics to gain their buy-in. The team needed to capture the attention and interest of the operators and explain to them what SPC could offer, providing enough detail and examples to ensure solid understanding. And they had to answer the question on every operator's mind: What's in it for me?
The Action Plan
To win support of the operators, the guiding team decided to focus on a problem that was causing a lot of frustration for them: equipment adjustments.
The problem revolved around the number of adjustments operators were making on a particular piece of equipment and the downtime that resulted. Every time an operator had to make an adjustment, the production line had to be stopped, thus affecting the line’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Before implementing the SPC solution, decisions to make equipment adjustments were driven by pure subjectivity. Operators were receiving different instructions from quality inspectors, process engineers, plant managers, and even the director of production. No wonder they were feeling overwhelmed!
The implementation team decided to create a simple pilot project focused on that piece of equipment. The team considered it important to train all the operators and managers on SPC and in the new software. Because SPC is a tool that indicates when a real change in your process has happened, the team knew it was critical for operators to understand control charts, box-and-whisker charts, and Pareto charts.
Because they knew how important it was to convey information using examples that would help operators understand these concepts, the team created a training module that used a fable about penguins that everyone in the plant could relate to.
As soon as the operators were trained and validated, they received a button that said: "Statistical Process Control | I'm Qualified in SPC | Ask Me About It!"
Support and Learning
When the operators started collecting data using the new SPC software, the implementation team was always available to answer questions or give guidance. The team checked on the line every hour to make sure the operators felt comfortable and supported.
As part of the support, the team also focused on producing some short-term wins. For example, whenever a control chart indicated the process was out of control, the process engineer stopped the line and worked with the mechanics and the operators to better understand any sources of variation.
This process uncovered several possible sources of variation. From there, the process engineers could drill deeper by using brainstorming sessions, fishbone activities, and other problem-solving tools in the software.
Everybody in the plant was involved with this "big problem" solution effort, including the process engineers, managers, and operators from the production line. News about the project started to spread around the entire plant. People were asking questions: Why is that line doing so well? What problem are they trying to solve? How can we participate? What are those buttons the operators are wearing?
Embracing Change Across the Plant
You could definitely feel the difference in the atmosphere! This was the right moment for the implementation team to inform everyone about SPC and the use of the software. More people started to get involved, and the SPC implementation spread across additional production lines. Before long, the entire plant was using the software and understanding the SPC concept.
The initial pilot SPC project was modified to better suit the operators’ needs. Some of the more popular enhancements involved integrating the software with gauges to enable automated data entry, full gauge-reading displays, and links from toolbar buttons to other applications.
It was pretty amazing to see how the entire plant culture had positively changed. Operators were feeling less overwhelmed, the production lines were running better, and the company was making more money.
Still, the best part was how people reacted to the change in a positive way. Even during Halloween, operators on the production line where SPC was first implemented were wearing costumes showing SPC on their shirts. The idea for wearing these costumes came from the operators themselves; they even won a plant-wide costume contest. The implementation team was highly satisfied with the results and their ability to help the operators.
Create Your Own Pilot
The success that this manufacturing organization saw with its pilot implementation program enabled a successful plant-wide rollout of their SPC software solution—and made the change a positive experience overall. Their method may not be the approach for your organization, but it does offer takeaways you can use.
Getting success in the implementation of an SPC-based software solution could be a challenge. But making people feel good about what they are doing is priceless—and it can even be fun!
To learn more about how to ensure adoption and success with your SPC-based quality management software, contact the experts at InfinityQS. We have more than 25 years helping companies just like yours find success, savings, and quality improvements.