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TLS Continuum: Who Really is your process Subject Matter Expert?

As I have stated earlier I am currently in the process of reading Michael Rother’s Toyota Kata. In the book the point is made as to who should be the one who is considered the SME of the process within the organization. The problem is that the author’s response to the question is quite different from what I was taught in my Six Sigma Black Belt training. The purpose of this part of the TLS Continuum series is to look at the differences between the two.

To place us on an even playing field consider this scenario. You are working on meeting the demands of a customer and for some reason your organization is falling short on meeting that demands. It is the belief within the organization that the problem resides somewhere within the process. The question is who is the SME responsible for identifying the problem.

On one side of the coin, if we listen to Michael Rother, the process’s work standard is owned by the team leader. He claims that to do otherwise is both unfair and ineffective. Remember that for the most part Rother is referring to the lean part of the process. He feels that to use the operator is a misuse of resources and lowers productivity. By using the team leader Rother suggests that 90% of realized improvement comes from the leaders on the floor of the plant.

On the other side of the coin are the TLS Continuum proponents who suggest that the only ones with the real knowledge of the operation of the process are those who have their hands on the process daily. This would make the SME the person who is running the process.

Following reading the section in Toyota Kata that discussed the ownership of the process I quizzed some of my fellow process improvement experts and asked their opinion of the discord. The consensus is that there is no single right answer to the question. Second the belief is that you take what someone says and interpret it on how it applies to your situation. With that in mind here is the way I see it.

Every organization is based on processes, which directly affect cross-functional areas within the organization. The human capital asset on the front line is the one who directly sees, feels and understands where the problem is. In the workings of the cross-functional teams the manager may have some input into the discussion however they are not the final ownership of the program. To state that they do as Michael Rother does negates the Deming point of quality that says that there must be pride of ownership in the process. If the front line is kept out of the discussion where is the pride of ownership? There is none. If the front line is an after thought then where is the pride of ownership? There is none. When we tell our human capital assets that they have no ownership in the process, we are also telling the same individuals that as far as the corporation is concerned they are not important to the success of the organization.

I would argue that while Michael Rother might be valid in his view of the Toyota Production System, the overall basis for his claim is not valid for the rest of the world. The success of our continuous process improvement efforts and the implementation of the TLS Continuum are critically based on the total involvement of every member of the organization in the improvement efforts. It is the input from that often overlooked employee who may very well show the light at the end of the rainbow leading the organization to greater and greater levels of productivity and effectiveness.

We have seen how Michael Rother, the engineer sees it and we have seen how we see it. Where do you fall in the spectrum? Who is the Subject Matter Expert of your processes? Who holds the ultimate responsibilities to ensure that the process standard work is being followed? Drop us a line and let us know your thoughts ([email protected])

 

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