Our world operates on Continuous Improvement (CI). Every day and every aspect of our lives is based on it. There is a constant effort to do continuous improvement on our bodies by being healthier or eating better. We strive to make our work days easier by being more efficient. The latest technology is purchased for our homes or cars or lifestyles in the quest for the best. In today’s culture, Continuous Improvement is a way of thinking and operating. Tools and Techniques are simply a means to enable the Business Results and should not be the driver of activities.
Continuous improvement refers to all aspects of improving processes, products, methodologies, and techniques to ensure they provide sustainable value . Topics such as Six Sigma, Lean, Design for Six Sigma, Quality, Preventative and Predictive Maintenance and Sustainability are in constant review by CI professionals. These various methodologies are used to design and measure changes, to document the quantitative and qualitative improvements, and sustain the gains. As CI takes place, breakthrough thinking begins to change the culture of an organization. The concepts behind continuous improvement ensure that companies innovate and become the best in class with successful financial results. When a company does not embrace the operational excellence journey, market share is lost to competition.
In order to have a Lean transformation, the entire organization solves problems and generates ideas to improve through the removal of wasteful activities. The workforce must see this as an integral part of daily jobs. In a Lean Enterprise, the focus is on reducing wasteful activity, or Non-Value-Added time. This can have dramatic effects on the Lead Time and significantly improve performance for the Customer in terms of Quality, Service, Reliability and Cost. With added flexibility, Customers receive the maximum value that they expect.
It is critical that our workforce understands that working smarter, not harder is the most important part of Continuous Improvement.
CI also involves structural standardization where the effects build on each other. There is a need to understand the standard is and then deviate from that standard. Returning to the standard is not continuous improvement, it only maintains the current standard. Continuous Improvement will always create an improved new standard.
There are different kinds of improvements.
Kind of improvement Tools:
A wealth of knowledge and talent to improve the operating procedures is already in place in your company. Every individual uses their problem-solving skills and tools, not just a few “experts”. These small, everyday improvements on minor issues that trouble us are the beginning of world class standards. This provides a structure to help manage improvement ideas and enable easy knowledge sharing. A philosophy of continuous improvement is based on setting standards to eliminate waste through participation of all.
Continuous Improvement aims to eliminate wastes in the operation by involving and utilizing skills and abilities of the entire workforce by focused activities. At the same time, the culture is revitalized and the working environment made fun, safe and enjoyable by focusing on people.
Kaizens are small, quick improvements to the current process, typically not requiring an event or a big team to arrive at the solution. Typically, these improvements are made within a month. Employees are given the authority and empowerment to change processes that affect them daily. Kaizens also lead us to be able to make mistakes and try again which is the main principle of continuous improvement.
In Lean Thinking, Kaizen is used on a daily basis, driving continuous improvement through the relentless pursuit of excellence. It is never ending, with every activity considered as the starting point for an improvement.
To institutionalize continuous improvement, we must ensure the robustness of all processes. This robustness is achieved by standardized work, management control and accountability, leader standard work and visual cues that show us when we are not doing what we said we were going to do.
Leader Standard Work (LSW) is often the “missing link” to sustaining improvement.
Leader standard work is a visual daily performance management system that is
- Timely, and
- Drives both action and learning.
LSW ensures all standard work are working as a system as intended; Institutionalize all processes. It also focuses on accountability. This powerful tool will help leaders shift behavior to focus on the processes. In addition, it challenges leaders to become teachers as well as problem solvers while separating the people who are unwilling to participate.
An example of Leader Standard Work is shown below:
In order to sustain Continuous Improvement, top management must lead by example, going to the workplace which is what we call the “Gemba”. Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place”. In business, the Gemba refers to the place where value is created. In manufacturing, the Gemba is the manufacturing floor. In Lean Manufacturing, Gemba is where we can make the problems visible and improvement ideas can come from going to the Gemba. We must look at the day to day, hour by hour problems and challenges. This will give people not the answers but the time, follow up, and support needed to solve them.
Companies often blame poor management or corporate rules when diminishing profits occur, but the root cause is usually from a lack of a lean system incorporating visual communication. Information not being portrayed is the biggest cause of problems because the communication aspect was lost. A successful workplace is made by continuous improvements that increase operational excellence while communicating the gains.. The improvement strategy used is what makes a company successful. Not only should a company have these measures in place, but there is also a need to ensure the sustainability of old improvements while incorporating new and continuous improvements daily.
Visual communication requires self-discipline and self-motivation. An incorporated group is required for the fundamentals to work. Success is not possible with just one person. This initiative needs top management support and must be driven to meet customer satisfaction. Visual standards and controls are a means of communication for all work aspects. They show what needs to be done, where someone needs to be and when, how the progression of a project is going, and many safety measures.
It is important to know how to process the communication and information received. Data is useless unless it changes performance. Visual communication is the means to take data and make meaningful progressions to improve the workplace with sustainable performance metrics. Companies must grow with realistic expectations and then must be the best in the business in order not to lose the business. Gaining alignment will allow customers to grow.
Information presented is not progress; therefore the information given must lead to progress. Items need to be accomplished in order to improve rather than just communicating the information given. Knowing what information is present and what information to share is imperative for visual communication. Communicating too much unnecessary information will only lead to more chaos and confusion. Messages should be relayed simplistically in order not to overwhelm employees.
A lean enterprise is market driven; when customers cannot get something from one supplier or are not happy with that supplier, they simply go to a competitor. This is the importance of Continuous Improvement. There is always room for improvement no matter what we do. We must eliminate the variation in a system so that we have a standard. Once we meet that standard, we continuously improve upon it and raise that standard to the “Golden standard”. Continuous Improvement occurs in every step we take. Without Continuous Improvement, the world could not survive. The importance of Continuous Improvement should be taken very seriously because without it, we would live a life of boredom and repetitiveness.
Deming who was a pertinent individual for Continuous Improvement stated, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” This quote shows the importance of Continuous Improvement being a key to our survival. However, we must remember, failure is only an opportunity for another round of Continuous Improvement, this time done more intelligently with the data we have from our failures. Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s reputation for innovative, high-quality products, and for its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact on Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage.
Change does not come easily when developing Continuous Improvement; however, the continuous struggle will make it inevitable that we need Continuous Improvement. The concluding message is that without a concerted effort in Continuous Improvement, the economic system would not be able to survive along with ourselves. We always want to be better, so Continuous Improvement should be the key to life.