Keep momentum up at your plant with defect elimination and whiteboard process mapping

June 30, 2020
Tom Moriarty says consider these two ways to help your teams maintain productivity and continually keep performance high.

“A few months ago, we were firing on all cylinders. Our tons of finished product shipped was the best we ever achieved, and we celebrated. The months since have been a steady decline back to the previous average level of performance. What should we be doing to regain that higher level of performance? How do we keep the momentum up?”

About the Author: Tom Moriarty

A lot of plant managers face this problem. There is short-term motivation to put forth an extra level of effort. Maybe a key customer complained about a noticeable degradation of quality, or poor on-time/in-full deliveries. Or maybe it’s a low-margin business and costs have made them less competitive. Whatever the reason, there was a need to boost performance.

The plant manager responds by lighting a fire under the plant personnel to get things back on track. The boost in performance revealed the level that is attainable. But can that performance level be sustained?

Assuming the productivity improvement was not due to technology advancements or easier to manufacture product mix, etc., there are two reasons why performance may backslide. First, if you run the production assets beyond your ability to keep them reliable, the plant will dictate a lower performance level. Second, if the people that operate and maintain the plant feel the performance level was achieved “on the workforce’s backs,” they will eventually regress to lower energy levels because they will not feel respected or motivated.

Let’s focus on the people side. How can you respect and motivate people? Engage them. Ask them. Listen to them. Give them responsibility and trust them. Two tools that can help you raise and sustain overall performance are defect elimination and whiteboard process mapping.

In this article, defect elimination means identifying and correcting things that interfere with the highest attainable and sustainable performance. The guiding team includes representatives from each plant function and a union or workforce representative.

The workforce is encouraged to bring improvement ideas to a guiding team. The majority of the ideas should be small, easy to fix problems. The workers that make suggestions will be asked to lead the implementation of the solution.

Whiteboard process mapping is where a large whiteboard is placed in a common area, where a process that needs improvement is displayed as a flow chart. Yellow sticky notes are provided, so any plant person can add notes. The yellow note includes a statement about a problem with the process. Green sticky notes are available to make suggestions on how to fix problems. There can be multiple solutions for each problem.

After some time, there will be collections of yellow and green sticky notes. As with the defect elimination method, the guiding team will review the ideas and authorize solutions to move forward. Whiteboard mapping visually shows where there are problems and encourages everyone to give solution ideas.

The guiding team needs to have guidelines, and its bias should be toward approving ideas, as opposed to disapproving. The solutions should cost no more than $2,500. Solutions should be in place within a few weeks. Suggestions cannot be just to transfer responsibility onto other persons.

The guiding team is accountable to track improvements and send out communications, giving credit to the workforce people who made the suggestions and those that assisted. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), profits, and total cost per unit of product or service produced can be used to quantify the value of the improvement and sustainment efforts. With each small improvement, overall performance will increase, even if only marginally.

These two methods work because they show respect for the workforce, which motivates people. The workforce is closest to the issues and are the best people to identify problems and fixes. Initially, you are likely to get suggestions from 10 to 20 percent of those most engaged. If handled properly, positive outcomes will influence more and more people to make suggestions. Go forth and do great things.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at

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