“Speaking Out”

October 2004

Robert Skillman

Robert is a trainer, consultant, and coach who specializes in Lean/Six Sigma training and deployment. Since 1997, he has been certifying students as Lean/Six Sigma Black Belts and Master Black Belts.

Robert earned his Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in metallurgical engineering from EIP and is Certified as a Lean/Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Lean Sensei, Quality Auditor and Quality Engineer. Bob also serves as adjunct faculty at Kent State University.

Robert has worked in positions ranging from engineering to executive corporate management. His experience has brought him to the point where he now helps companies apply the methods proven to achieve true wealth, prosperity, impeccable quality and competitive positioning in world markets.


Building An Effective Problem Solving Team

By Robert Skillman

TOPS concepts had their origins with Ford Motor Company in the late 1980's. The TOPS method was first organized, as a team structure, to be used in conjunction with the popular 8D (Eight-Discipline) practice. Employed successfully at Ford locations the method was shared with Fords supply base. This three-day training instructed many users and established the prominent place for TOPS as an outstanding method to solve problems.

In recent years TOPS has found a place in harmony with many established problem and project management situations. No longer limited to 8D, TOPS is now the preferred team structure for PDCA, Lean, and DMAIC projects. Today, we look at TOPS teams as the best practice for organizing effective improvement teams. In this article we will examine the TOPS team structure and not so much the problem or project to which they are tasked.

The structure:
  • Champion

  • Leader

  • Facilitator

  • Recorder

  • Cross-functional members

Champion - the voice of the company. The champion owns the team, the results, and the implementation from an executive level. Champions typically do not attend meetings or attempt to micromanage the team, but remain on standby to render assistance. Champions can write checks, authorize overtime, remove obstacles, and breakup fights.

Leader - the one with the most to gain by completing the project. A big stakeholder will exert more energy than a casual Leader. The Leader sets the schedule, selects the team members, and makes assignments.

Facilitator - Champions, Leaders and team members may not be skilled in problem solving tools or methods. The Facilitator frequently will be a Six Sigma Black Belt or Lean Master. The roll of the Facilitator is not to lead the team, but to provide training and assistance regarding the best methods to get the job done.

Recorder - nothing is more important that keeping good records. The Recorder maintains all the documentation regarding team activities and results. Frequently this takes the form of a Kaizen Newspaper.

Cross-functional members - this is where the tribal knowledge (expert opinion) comes from. Profound subject knowledge is essential to success. A skilled Facilitator will use proven consensus building tools to harvest the tribal knowledge and prioritize it. Once the critical cause and effects relationships have been identified, they must be validated using statistical logic and proof of concept methods.

The ancestor to most successful teams is a clear Charter, signed by the Champion and the Team Leader. Once signed this document becomes a contract. The Champion represents the voice of the company and the Leader is the voice of the "deliverables".

KAVON International, Inc. has assisted both manufacturing and service oriented organization to use the TOPS methods for a diverse array of applications. These have not been limited to, but have included FMEA, APQP, 8D, DMAIC, Environmental, 5S, and Lean projects.

KAVON International, Inc. is a business consultancy that helps clients create Value in order to attain and sustain a Competitive Advantage in the markets they serve. If your company is seeking registration or compliance to any of the Quality Management System standards such as ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, AS9100, ISO 17025, ISO 14001, or ISO 13485, or wants to establish a continual improvement program using Lean Six Sigma methodologies, give us a call and let one of our Trusted Advisors help you with implementation and training.

© Copyright 2004 by KAVON International, Inc., All Rights Reserved