Since this is the last and final installment of the fOS Methodology’s approach to World Class Manufacturing Execution series, I’d like to start this post off in a special way – by listing my top five most favorite quotes about Improvement:
5) “We make our discoveries through our mistakes: we watch one another’s success: and where there is freedom to experiment there is hope to improve.” ― Arthur Quiller-Couch
4) “No matter how good you get you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” ― Tiger Woods
3) “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin
2) “Improvement begins with I.” – Arnold H. Glasow
1) “I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.” – Steve Jobs
In business, improvement is non-negotiable. This is especially true in manufacturing. In most companies that make stuff, anywhere between 55% to 85% of total expenses goes into manufacturing (including salaries, materials, labor, equipment, shipping, etc). One of the general objectives in business is to minimize operating costs. Since manufacturing is the single greatest business expense, it makes perfect sense that manufacturing has lead the way in the business world in the area of continuous improvement. Nowadays, all areas of business from healthcare to finance to education are adopting some of the improvement practices that were developed in manufacturing.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a change agent, even in some of the most successful companies in the world, is that driving change is difficult. It is often welcome initially but there is always a percentage of the workforce (and leadership team) that quickly grows weary of change and will begin to lead the charge against change. All people seek comfort, and change (even improvement) disrupts order and pushes people out of their comfort zone. I’ve always looked at continuous improvement like pushing a boulder up a mountainside. It requires everyone to be working together against the boulder. Once it reaches the tipping point, gravity takes over, but the challenge is overcoming the initial push where gravity is working against you. It takes strong and steady leadership. And it takes a few people who really know what the hell they’re doing. Building a strong and steady leadership team is a continuous improvement process in itself…but knowing what the hell you’re doing is something I can certainly help with.
In Part IV of the fOS Methodology, we discussed the function of Management Systems being to process business performance and effectively allocate resources to address issues or capitalize on opportunities. Now we move on to Improvement Systems, which looks at taking action against opportunities. There are four main components to any improvement effort:
1) Improvement Team Structure
Once an opportunity for improvement has been identified, an individual or team needs to become the point of accountability for leading the improvement. With any accountability, one should also be granted authority to make the changes that are needed. With any authority, one should also receive the training and experience needed to effectively make decisions. So to re-order of that sequence chronologically, improvement is made possible through: proper training > authority > accountability. Strangely, in my experience, most actual continuous improvement efforts start with someone being held accountable for a process’ success or failure without having proper training or authority to make necessary changes. This is a recipe for failure for the poor soul who has been dealt this fate and the process that requires improvement.
2) Solutions Development
Solutions should not be developed in a vacuum. The days of cowboy management are over where the one who runs into a crisis situation and rescues all the hostages is the hero. The world has become so competitive that companies cannot afford to significantly compromise on quality or safety or cost or morale in order to solve a problem. Solutions developed in a vacuum tend are developed with “skewed” interests and the cost of the problem is often passed on to some other area of the business (ie quality, safety, cost, etc…). Effective solutions development requires the input and expertise of a cross-functional organization. For very small issues, this may not be feasible and individuals need the cross-functional training required for effective daily decision-making. For larger-scale opportunities, ideas need to be properly vetted and a higher degree of expertise should be deployed. Also, a broader range of interests need to be addressed.
3) Resource Acquisition
After acquiring the appropriate buy-offs on an implementation plan and resource requirements are determined, managers need to support improvement leaders in acquiring the needed resources. This can be as easy as checking inventory to see if supplies are in stock or as complex as expending political capital needed to obtain resources that are not cost justified. This is where the project Champion makes all the difference in the world. I’ve worked with Champions who have done nothing more than sabotage the project and those that have quickly broken down barriers and helped to smoothly execute projects. The best Champions are well-trained in the ways of Continuous Improvement and have a strong personal interest in the success of the project. Improvement leaders also to need to recognize how to use their Champions in considering how solutions will be shaped.
4) Improvement Implementation
After solutions are developed and resources are acquired, now its time for the rubber to hit the road. If the improvement leader has effectively executed the Improvement System thus far, she should be met with minimal resistance to making the necessary changes. The critical step here to secure full buy-in is to execute Change Management by performing a cross-functional risk assessment then completing any of the resulting mitigating actions. This will clear the way for changes to be made with the support of key leadership and subject matter experts. Skipping this step could lead to sabotage and erosion of credibility for the improvement leader. It could also lead to issues undermining really good work. After implementation and the process has reached steady state – at rate, the other critical step is the handoff of process ownership. This should be a formal procedure for transitioning the process’ ownership to the production managers. This includes future training, data collection / analysis, and everything else required to properly execute normal operations.
It’s easy to think that continuous improvement is a one-man-job. I’ve seen companies plug an IE or Lean Tech into a factory and say Continuous Improvement is his job. I hope that this post has conveyed that everyone in the organization has a role in a continuously improving manufacturing environment. Yes, CI requires at least one lead person…that person would ideally be the single leader of the entire organization. Again, in business, improvement is non-negotiable, and is a critical part of the manufacturing leader’s scope of responsibility.
Once improvements are made, standards should be revised to reflect the modified process. This is the piece that brings the fOS Methodology full-circle. The manufacturing Planning will need to incorporate the revised standards. This takes us back to the first quadrant of the fOS Methodology, and thus moves us one step closer to World Class Execution.
Please visit Manuficient Website for more information on this topic.
Also, visit my Excelville Profile for tools to help you along the way on your Continuous Improvement Journey.
Calvin L. Williams, MBA, BSIE, LSS
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