|Continuous improvement (CI) is not a project. It is a culture change and philosophy that world class manufacturing organizations recognize as the DNA of their operation. While the initial phase of a CI program may include project-based activities to prove the value, CI doesn’t stop at the completion of short-term improvement objectives — otherwise, it’s not really continuous improvement. Done well, the initial activities and subsequent CI maturity should result in broader workforce engagement. This article explores ways of keeping your teams focused during the inevitable slow-down that accompanies CI maturity.|
We all love seeing progress, the continuous improvement that comes out of our daily efforts at work. However, what happens when you suddenly see slower progress? Do you give up or do you stay focused?
The following are some ways of keeping your teams focused once continuous improvement (CI) maturity levels out:
Make CI a regular agenda item for all the various team and leadership meetings.
1. Merge the CI management process into the plant’s daily management
The CI management process should be merged into the daily management of the plant (i.e. the rituals and routines at each level that are used to govern plant operations). On a project timeline, this evolution should begin fairly early in the implementation of CI.
A simple way to do this is to make CI a regular agenda item for all the various team and leadership meetings, from the shift starters and daily performance review meetings to the weekly and monthly plant leadership sessions.
2. Incorporate improvement work into your daily activities
Once CI becomes a routine part of the conversation, it becomes easier to see how CI work directly impacts the operate/maintain environment and therefore needs to be considered within the context of that environment. While a bit harder to accomplish, establishing the desired culture requires that CI work becomes part of everyone’s job. A good CI process and plan needs to incorporate improvement work into your daily activities.
3. Consider the dangers and develop a strategy to counter them
All organizations striving toward Six Sigma levels of performance have a common problem in that they need to sustain the improvement drive once the obvious problems have been eliminated and the law of diminishing returns becomes a reality. In addition, the initial champions of the process may have left the organization with the result that the organization starts to lose sight of the vision. Senior management must consider these dangers and develop a strategy to counter them. Succession plans for key positions, ongoing communication, rejuvenating the vision with new initiatives and regular benchmarking could be strategies to consider.
4. Ensure a clear vision
Your organization may also need to review its corporate positioning in alignment with its overall objectives, once it has attained higher operational levels than its competitors. Strong leadership that has a clear vision of the path the organization needs to take is vital to combat inertia, complacency or the inevitable slow-down that accompanies CI maturity. What sets these leaders apart from the rest is the combination of skills and competencies they possess.
5. See the ‘lean journey’ as an adventure with no end
Even though this endeavor you’ve been working on to build a CI culture is commonly called a ‘lean journey’, the name is not entirely accurate because a journey implies an end. This ‘journey’ is more like an adventure or an exploration. Regardless of what you call it, if you are successful at it, you will eventually uncover the great paradox of creating a business management system that drives a CI culture: By definition, you can never finish building your system.
Strong leadership that has a clear vision of the path the organization needs to take is vital to combat inertia, complacency or the inevitable slow-down that accompanies CI maturity.
6. Identify ways to improve the CI process itself
Because it is so focused on CI, the structure will not just uncover opportunities within your production and support processes; it will identify ways to improve itself. This is the key characteristic of a mature implementation stage. The journey becomes self-powered. While there are still lessons and development gates in this stage, there is a noticeable change in the feel of the system. It no longer takes in more energy than it exudes. This stage is marked by a significant reduction in the effort it takes to roll out new ideas and a major increase in the system’s payoff.
Once your organization reaches this stage, the majority of your plants will be operating under the business management system, and should have a full CI calendar. Employees will be able to transfer throughout the company and immediately understand how the new department is run. The fact that everyone is involved, though, does not mean that you can coast on your previous efforts. It is very important to keep up the momentum.
The bottom line is that this is not exactly a steady state phase, as the improvement line should still be steep. It is more of the saturation phase where everyone is involved in CI, and the focus is on continually strengthening the culture. So keep it fresh and keep improving the system. Do not let it stagnate. Your competition is making improvements every day; evolving change has now become a way of life.
The path of CI is not easy and there will frequently be times when you will question whether the rewards are worth the effort. When the perceived benefits appear to decline over time, the organization reaches a danger point where it is tempting to give up. However, if your organization has the discipline and commitment to remain focused on CI, even when the rewards seem small, it will go on to achieve incredible success.
This resource has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without obtaining specific professional advice. Competitive Capabilities International (CCi) does not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this resource or for any decision based on it.