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Production Improvement Team

In late 1993, John Emery faced a very challenging problem. His account had recently completed a major consolidation of 13 different versions of a system supporting large financial institutions into a single system. Unfortunately the new system took 5 ½ hours to run batch processing during the nightly cycle. If any problems occurred running the cycle, the team had only a half an hour to fix the problem and restart without seriously impacting the customers' daily operations. A half an hour is not very much time to solve a systems problem, make the fix, and restart. Emery realized that the system needed to run faster, but how could they improve it?

John struck upon the idea of setting up a dedicated team of systems engineers to tackle the problem of getting the cycle to run faster. With the approval of his manager, Bill Hobbs, John asked for volunteers to tackle the problem. At the same time he created an initial team charter, explaining the goals and outlining a number of specific measurable objectives. With the agreement of his management, John offered to pay a bonus to each team member if the objectives were met. Each member would receive a fixed portion of the bonus for being on the team and also had the potential of earning an additional portion based on John's evaluation of their relative contribution to the teams success. From a pool of 15 volunteers, seven were selected based on skills, criticality of current roles, and perceived ability to work as a member of a team. John then met with the team to finalize the charter: Were the objectives in the realm of the possible? Did the team recognize the probable level of commitment of time that was going to be required to achieve the goal? After a few modifications to the charter, John explained to the team that it was on its own to determine how to achieve the objectives. The new team decided to call themselves the Production Improvement Team, which after a while became known as the PIT Team.

As the PIT Team got going, it found some unused office space and set up a dedicated PIT Team work area. The team define needed roles: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary coverage support, as well as Night coverage. It was agreed that the team would swap roles every two weeks, with each person serving every role over an eight week period. The team then created a schedule providing 24 hour coverage, seven days a week, for the whole year. Additional time was allocated for each person to spend dedicated time on specific projects or efforts to reduce the cycle run time.

Every Tuesday morning the PIT Team met to discuss actions they had taken during the week and new ideas for improving the cycle run time. They discussed what worked and what didn't. As a result team learning increased at a dramatic pace. The results of these meetings were written down and made available for any team members who were absent. Early on, the team made these minutes available to the larger team of Systems Engineers supporting the system, thereby extending the learning to the larger community of interest.

By the end of 1994, the PIT team had met or exceeded every objective. As a result, the system cycle time was reduced from 5 ½ hours to 1 ½ hours. The team was re-chartered in 1995 and 1996, given additional systems to cover, and successfully reduced the cost to run the larger systems cycle by 15 percent each year. The team requested that a System Monitor be added to the team. Systems Monitor's are non-engineering computer operators who oversee the actual running of each cycle. As 1997 begins, the PIT team will be focusing on improving system up-time. John Emery believes the keys to creating successful High Performance Teams are to:

The PIT teams success has not gone unnoticed. In 1995, the team won the EDS Signature Award, a company-wide recognition program for outstanding achievement. In addition, this High Performance Team model is being considered for wider adoption throughout the Banking Group and Securities Strategic Business Unit.

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Copyright (C) 1996-2002 Donald J. Bodwell. All rights reserved.