At the start of last week we went up to Aberdeen to talk to some of our Scottish colleagues about the games that we use as part of our training. They were interested in finding out whether they could use any of the ideas in the games for their own training, and we wanted to know how we could improve the games for our own use at Sheffield.
Our meeting took place on the top floor of the impressive Duncan Rice Library, with a view out to the grey North Sea. The first game we played was our ziggurat construction exercise - which meant we had to explain what a ziggurat is. The idea of the game is to show that batching up work, while it appears efficient to the individual, results in poor overall process performance. Our colleagues came up with some really interesting ideas for improvement including the idea that we use true pull without work buffers to lower the cost of inventory. They also suggested several ways in which the work process could be made more realistic - for instance people going off sick or being called away from their desk. Some of these ideas will be integrated into the game, for those occasions when we have more time.
As the meeting was split over two days we had time to talk to colleagues informally over dinner at the Adelphi Kitchen. A substantial amount of drink was consumed - although not by the present writer. The following morning was taken up with two more of our games. The first of these is ‘Runners, Repeaters and Strangers’ - which aims to show how team organisation can be used to improve the wait that work is dealt with, and which involves making and flying paper aeroplanes. We had to be careful that flight testing was not too obvious on the other side of the glass windows of our meeting room, as several VIPs were walking to and fro to another University meeting. They may well have questioned why senior Aberdeen staff were engaged in fun activities! Again some suggestions for improvements were made which we’ve taken on board.
Our final game - which we explained rather than played - was the Gemba Gem Company simulation. This attempts to show how important it is to go and find out on the ground what the problems are, rather than jump to conclusions from garbled accounts and management meetings, where opinions rather than facts win arguments.
All in all, a useful couple of days, with ideas from all parties on improvements, and ideas for new collaborations taking shape. We came away with thoughts about a game for showing how standard work can help with quality control which we’ve already started to develop.
So although time away from the office can sometimes seem like a distraction, it’s often, as it was on this occasion, a chance to recharge batteries and get a fresh burst of enthusiasm for the never ending job of continuous improvement.