It is so easy to have a defeatist attitude when it comes time to add a new initiative to an already full workload. That’s what happens at times as organizations place additional boxes on your CTQ checklist for the upcoming year. One common such initiative is to have your company commit more to “continuous improvement”. This Lean term seems like another one of those business buzz words that blow around in the shifting winds of corporate rhetoric. You know, it’s the kind of wind that makes walking into work in the morning a little bit more difficult than it would be on a calmer day.
However, if we’re not careful, when we approach this assignment we’ll miss the point. A continuous improvement approach is about decreasing the level of waste in our processes and increasing our efficiency and effectiveness through learning. Committing to continuous improvement is committing to your employees and transferring the efforts that get lost in issues handling and monotony and into increased engagement in getting better. To do this, we have to start somewhere, and this is typically in the training realm. We have to implement a continuous improving training mentality.
So the question you ask is: Where do we begin? Great question and I thank you for asking it. It segued nicely to my next point.
The first thing that has to be done is to determine the approach for launching the continuous improvement training program. One option is that the organization can bring in subject matter experts in this type of Lean training, potentially from a well-respected industry leader in that area. The other option is to take inventory of the crucial concepts as they relate to your team members and your drive towards continuous improvement and developing the training internally.
On the other hand, this may seem like a daunting task. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Start by getting organized with basic concepts that will allow you a great starting point in this initiative’s infancy. Here are some of those that should be foundational to the material that you develop:
- Standard Work PDCA – Having a standard is always a critical first step in the direction of continuous improvement. Team members need to be coached towards establishing Standard Work for their processes if they don’t exist. Once these are established, they serve as the platform for PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Adjust) around process hang-ups, inefficiencies and exceptions. Training individuals to spot pain points in their daily work and letting them know that seeking solutions for these is encouraged is very empowering.
- An Eye for Problem Solving – Continuous improvement training when it comes to problem solving is always a great momentum builder and is very easy to implement. The first component should be to choose or develop a methodical problem solving process (there are many great ones out there between Lean, Six Sigma and other approaches). This process can then be taught to team members and demonstrated with a real-world example that applies to the organization’s work. Group exercises and open discussion typically come easily when training on this topic. Then, periodic problem solving check-adjusts can be coached and implemented to create sustainability.
- Developing Simple Metrics– It would be irresponsible to do any continuous improvement training for the team without a refresher on metrics. If your organization already has good measurement systems that are intuitive and available for the operator-level team members, then you are ahead of the game. If not, establishing some simple metrics that focus on the process inputs, rather than the outputs, is the next step. When done in tandem with strong, standardized processes this will drive successful outputs and help team members understand the score of the game. The training piece comes into play by relaying the cause-and-effect relationship between the input metrics and the overall performance and how the daily activities drive these numbers. Also, encouraging team members to reflect on other potential metrics acts as a good catalyst for having your team think critically about its work.
- Driving for Visibility – The Lean culture opines for an environment where problems are made visible. It is too easy to transform your workplace into a “mum’s the word” backroom of timid team members that are uneasy with the thought of bringing problems to the attention of leadership for fear of being blamed or rocking the boat. Continuous improvement training should start with creating an environment where team members that improve their standard work, solve problems and bring opportunities to management’s attention are lauded for their efforts. Kaizens, Standard Work development, formal problem solving and improvements in metrics should be made visible in the work place with graphics or a dedicated status board. This fosters the right attitude and can spark other ideas for team members who were not involved to brainstorm and share best practices.
All in all, you know your organization better than anyone. That’s probably what you’ve been thinking for the last few paragraphs. That’s ok. The key is taking the general approach to fostering continuous improvement and applying the specific situations, workflow and structure from your business to make your training program fit. The material, examples and discussion needs to drive home from a place of common understanding to be the most effective.
Additionally, it is not realistic for your organization to become Lean overnight with mature Standard Work, visual problem solving and comprehensive metrics that all move team members in the same direction. Accordingly, work with leadership to clarify some specific goals for the short and long term to use as encouragement for the team as they work towards that desired environment. Launching the continuous improvement training will drive the incremental advancement that you need and the appropriate pace will become clearer as learning happens organically.
Continuous improvement may seem like a buzzword, but between you, me and the bees, it is much more than that. There are numerous case studies and success stories that should make that evident, and you can find various examples through great Lean resources such as other LeanCor literature. Then, after buying into the value of continuous improvement and working hard to get the ball rolling, you will have the information available to stand your ground should your organization toy with the idea of abandoning it. You will have taken the corporate winds of change and built a turbine that will power your organization forward.Share