A Fortune 500 chemical company was struggling with the development of a new breakthrough polymer. A sufficient level of clarity needed to be achieved in order to have the polymer replace glass, and perform better, in a large number of applications - the polymer was resistant to extreme cold, extreme heat, to being scratched, etc.
The polymer was coming out yellow out of the pilot plant. The “yellow index” was 35, and it needed to be 5 or less for the polymer to be successful in its targeted markets. Millions had already been spent over a period of 7 years. The Vice President in charge decided to give the project a last chance to succeed. LPR was asked to work with the researchers and the pilot plant engineers responsible for the polymer, to obtain a “yellow index” of 5 or less within 6 months, or the project was to be discontinued.
- The relationships were explosive between engineers and researchers, and tempers were frayed. The researchers, PhD’s located on the East coast, and the pilot plant engineers located in Texas, blamed each other for the repeated failures to produce a clear polymer. Engineers accused the researchers of being too theoretical: their solutions could only work in test tubes. The researchers accused the engineers of being insufficiently knowledgeable and committed to solving the issue, and to be poor at following procedures. Each group felt the other one was not cooperating.
- They had already tried everything they could think of to solve the problem, and could not see what else to do. They now felt that the problem was not solvable. So any more efforts were a waste of time and money.
- We set up a breakthrough project with the researchers and the engineers – altogether some 30 people
- We got the commitment of both group a) to continue their efforts for the six months and b) to go for breakthrough
- High on our list was to get the engineers and researchers to listen to each other, and to accept that what was being said was the truth, rather than reasons and justifications. We had them stop blaming each other
- A researcher relocated to the pilot plant in Texas with his family to help implement researchers’ recommendations, and adapt them to the pilot plant where necessary, seeing first hand what the pilot plants problems were. (That in itself was considered to be a breakthrough.)
- New ideas generated to solve the problem were quickly put into motion and implemented, accelerating the testing of new hypotheses
- Ideas were not restricted to what they thought created the yellow color, they were spanning a much larger range of potential issues.
Within 5 months, the yellow index of 5 was achieved.