Monthly Archives: September 2013

Driving effective continual improvement

Effective Continual Improvement
As usual I will start with a fitting quote:
“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.”
Tom Peters
“Driving effective continual improvement”
We have all heard it before – if we are not getting better, we are falling behind. This could not be more true today in our global economy. The auction notices, plant closures, layoffs, etc… are a sign of the times for many in the manufacturing industry. Though there are headlines of “reshoring” that we see, if we do not find ways to do things better, faster and cheaper the manufacturing sector will likely continue to dwindle in total makeup of the economy.

Many companies have tried different C.I (continual improvement) strategies, efforts and tools, many soon fall by the wayside as ineffective or not worth the effort which is unfortunate. Though there are many great and effective ways and methodologies to achieve improvement (Six Sigma, Lean, etc…) the purpose of this blog article will be to discuss and present some BASIC strategies and observations that I have made myself over the past 20 plus years in the quality/ manufacturing world. By no means am I trying to put out that these are the end all, be all to implementing C.I but more just things that I have experienced.

Creating the perception or need to improve falls on the shoulders of management. This can be done through the company culture that is reinforced and put in place, communication to the employees as to how the survival of the firm is really at stake, (and it really is), creation of an environment where it is commonplace to want to improve and the rewards and recognition (W.I.I.F.M) systems. Just making the company more profit in itself is not motivation enough for employees to feel the “WHY”.

The “how” deals with the process through which improvement activities are done. Are you looking to use improvement teams, individual suggestions or a combination of both? A clear process needs to be developed, communicated to the employees and reinforced/ talked about constantly by management. Are there specific forms, meetings, etc… that need to be used?

What are the responsibilities for the different aspects of the C.I efforts? Who reviews ideas, facilitates team meetings, implements the ideas, provides feedback, etc… The responsibilities for all of those involved needs to be thought out and communicated clearly.

This is the responsibility of management. If an environment of C.I is not instilled in all employees as the norm, then it is likely that efforts and success will be minimal. Are there regularly scheduled team meetings, C.I communication boards, allocated resources and capital (when needed). Are the improvements talked about (actually raved about) by management? If management is not pushing this type of culture then it will not happen by itself. This culture even goes as far as the company hiring process. Is a new employee introduced to the C.I nature of the company and told about how the process works?

A well thought out process is extremely important from idea generation, idea capture, execution and feedback . Training is also critical. The employees need to understand how to use the process, how to gather & analyze data and knowledge of different quality tools that can make the C.I program effective. If the company is going to use C.I Teams, how will they function, how often should they meet, will they assign or be appointed a facilitator, etc… Another aspect is how the improvement ideas will be approved, implemented and communicated to management and the rest of the company.

Organizations can pursue different paths to improvement. Some refer to the ongoing, slower paced C.I as evolutionary improvement and the larger scale, (usually higher investment), earth shattering type of C.I as revolutionary improvement. I feel that both avenues need to be pursued. Work group teams (sometimes called kaizen teams) tend to result in the “evolutionary type improvements while the executive teams lean more towards the revolutionary improvement projects. This is definitely not to say that either type can come from either group but just my own observations.

– Lack of management involvement. Management cannot delegate all of the C.I duties, and definitely not the management and leadership of the effort.
– No organized approach (flying by the seat of your pants)
– Inadequate resources. Employees need time and coverage for their extra duties related to C.I activities, training, etc…
– Past failed initiatives (program of the month)

Chronic process issues (sometimes called common cause) exist all of the time (example: a known long term process quality level) where a sporadic (sometimes called special cause) process issue is a sudden change. Chronic issues are a good candidate for an improvement project. Sporadic issues fall under the area of corrective action though the same teams and employee efforts can be used to solve both realistically.

Here is to improvement.