In this post, I will share 6 tips to starting and sustaining your continuous improvement efforts. The goal of this post is to help you accelerate your Lean journey and increase the success of your own continuous improvement program.
The first advice is to focus on small gradual changes rather than large changes. Small changes can be made quickly, on a daily-basis, and are typically inexpensive. By focusing on small changes, you can remove barriers from just starting a continuous improvement process. This focus will allow your team to reap the benefits of their “small wins” right away. As more and more small changes are applied, your team will see an accumulation of benefits from them. This will give them more confidence to suggest more ideas.
By going after the ideas that do not require a large amount of investment, you can remove the financial barriers of your continuous improvement efforts. This process can empower the line worker to suggest and implement ideas that can improve their working process because they know that their changes do not need upper management approval. Some ideas such as reducing waste, eliminating unnecessary steps, and re-organizing in the work processes fall into this category.
In a Lean and continuous improvement organization employees are your greatest asset and should also be the source of generating new ideas for improvement. No one knows the work better than the person who performs it everyday. No one has more “skin in the game” about the working process than that person. As a result, the best person to suggest ideas for improvement and to implement them is the line worker.
Although employees play a vital part in the continuous improvement process, it is management’s role to train and empower them. Most workers are unaware of Lean principles and practices such as 5S, the 8 wastes, value stream mapping, visual management, Kaizen, etc. As a result, they may not realize that many of the processes that they perform everyday and the frustration that they feel at work are due to unnecessary waste. Additionally some workers are modest and reluctant to share ideas. It is management’s role to educate their staff on Lean tools and techniques that can be applied to the continuous improvement process and to help their employees overcome any personal or psychological barrier that prevents them from trying out new ideas.
An effective continuous improvement program needs continuous measurement and feedback. Before you can start, you need to understand the baselines of your organization’s performance. Only by understanding and establishing a baseline can you evaluate new ideas for improving upon it. One effective way of gathering feedback on your continuous improvement efforts is to apply the Plan-Do-Check-Check (PDCA) cycle. The PDCA cycle allows you to scientifically test your experiments. The cycle ensures continuous improvement by measuring the performance difference between the baseline and target condition. This gives immediate feedback on the effectiveness of the change. If the idea was effective, the next cycle of improvement will start with the new baseline and your goal is to move towards a new target condition.
Creating Baselines Through PDCA Cycle Through Feedback (Heathcote, 2017).
Measuring the impacts of your continuous improvement program is the most effective way of sustaining it. By showing an ROI in your program, you can get more organizational support and funding for improvement initiatives.
Some questions to ask when measuring the impacts of your improvements include:
Not all change can be measured quantitatively via a ROI. However, there are always qualitative ways to document the impact of the change on the organization. By capturing both quantitative and qualitative impacts of your improvements, you can increase workers’ morale, show your team the impact that they are making, and recognize star performers.
Applying continuous improvement requires participation from everyone in the organization. Upper management needs to invest time and money in employee training and empowerment. Managers need to foster an environment of trust, collaboration, open communication, and a willingness to experiment. And finally, workers need to be engaged in their work and be challenged to come up with small gradual improvements each and every day. By applying these principles, your company will be able to start and sustain your continuous improvement efforts. This will lead to a more economically competitive organization, more efficient work processes, and more satisfied employees.
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