Companies that embrace a full complement of improvement projects yield more benefits
The Art of Finding $100 Bills
Continuous improvement is all about providing the most value for customers with the least amount of waste in providing products and services. To stay on top of improving year over year, there are many initiatives that are often kicked off by the management teams. Some are big, bold expansions of business while others are merely small, incremental improvements.
Society often rewards the big, bold announcements and political ‘points’ that can be scored by claiming business expansion, acquisition, equipment purchases and so on. These big announcements often imply that the business is doing well and offer headlines of good news to the community. I am not saying these are not important. They are. But, they should not be the only improvement and growth strategy applied. In the table below, we can see that smaller initiatives can also deliver the same or even better results!
I often ask company leaders, “With the few ‘big’ projects going on and the focus on tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefit, who is focused on picking up the thousands of hundred-dollar bills?”
Companies that embrace a full complement and variety of improvement projects yield more benefits, more employee engagement and more leverage to their project savings and productivity. Let’s look at it this way. Large capital projects take a lot of time to discuss, approve and plan for. Once decided upon, there is a project leader named and a team of people (internal and external) that begin working on it. There are very few employees involved and often, there is a lot of delays, extra costs, and problems with the implementation. It is no wonder why many employees feel like big projects do not really improve things, they just make life more difficult and take more effort on their part. Certainly, one can do better and improve the quality of execution on these projects but, it does not change the fact that very few employees get to be involved with such efforts. There is no doubt, these types of projects can deliver tens or hundreds of thousands in ROI over time. This may be why they get so much attention too. Big projects, get big attention.
When companies begin embracing more improvement activities, led by internal (or external) facilitators, they learn to apply improvements in smaller, more manageable scope and timeframes. Decisions can be made quicker, with fewer delays and resources to get going. Typical projects in this area are Kaizen events that focus on reducing waste, set up times, quality defects and equipment downtime. Perhaps you set up a PDCA (Lean) or DMAIC (Six Sigma) team to resolve customer complaints or solve supplier issues and internal problems. These activities require the input of employees as team members and resources to participate in the team tasks. Employee engagement, pride, and ownership for change is far higher in this realm of project types. Often what happens is that companies start scheduling more and more Kaizen events and PDCA projects and it becomes engrained enough that employees begin asking, “When are you going to do a Kaizen in my department?”. This is a sign that employees are really embracing the efforts and excited about positive change in their workspace. Another statement you might here from employees is, “Can I be on the next kaizen event? I have some good ideas I’d like to implement.” This is a sign that you are ready for the next phase! Projects of this scope often return tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) but because we can complete more of them per year, it is possible to achieve hundreds of thousands per year in savings and can engage many more employees along the way.
Quick and Easy Kaizen is all about finding small improvements in your work, every day that make it easier to complete your tasks so that you can accomplish more tomorrow or, free your time to make even more improvements for you, your team, department, and company. At FastCap in Bellingham, WA, they call it 2-Second Lean. Others call it Daily Kaizen. It does not matter what it is called in your company, just get it happening! Please do not confuse this with a “suggestion program”. They are not the same. In fact, a good ‘solution program’ like daily kaizen, should kick your “suggestion program” to the curb! Now, for the ‘how to’.
Where to start…
- Build off the structure of Kaizen Events and PDCA problem solving from those medium sized projects. Every kaizen, big or small, follows the same logic and process. The only thing that changes is the scope (size of project) and the actual improvement goal.
- Develop the front-line leadership to teach, lead and coach employees in the identification of issues, analysis of problems, development of solutions and implementation of change. This is the critical and most needed step! If the Team Leaders, Supervisors, and front-line Managers can perform in these key activities, there is no stopping the future of continuous improvement! Every front-line leader needs to be able to guide employees through the process, without just taking it on their own shoulders and at the same time, fully grasp that employee engagement in improvement is as much a part of the employees’ job as performing the value-added work for customers.
- Provide employees with ongoing teaching and practice of improvement. Insist on it. Teach them how to problem solve, what makes a great solution to a problem and how to collaborate to get solutions implemented. Your future front-line leaders will come from this group of employees. Use this as the training ground. As an example, if an employee comes to you with a problem, coach them on evaluating the problem. Can they define the problem in measurable terms? Teach them to pay attention to the time variations, defects, rework, etc. and be able to convey that to those they need support from. If the employee comes with a solution to a problem, simply ask them a few key questions. Is this the best of the many solutions you thought about? Does this solution affect more than just you? Have you involved them in your process? Do you need any support from other departments to implement? Is there anything you need from me to be successful? Now, there are variations of these of course depending on the responses you get. The important point is to ask questions that lead the employee through the thought process so that each time they go through it, they get better at it. Eventually, they will be answering all the questions before you even ask them.
- Set up the support departments to be flexible, agile, and responsive to the needs of employee led improvements. Internal requests for help in implementing continuous improvement must be a priority for departments such as Engineering, Maintenance, Quality, Purchasing, I.T., HR and so on. After all, the value of those departments is in their ability to collaborate to remove roadblocks, provide service to the value adding processes and improve the overall business value streams. Departmental silos are a nemesis to daily kaizen and a hindrance to improvement. Value stream mapping and visual, gemba management are a way to make this process transparent and much more effective.
Working toward daily kaizen should be part of your strategic plan to hit those lofty and necessary goals. Having most, if not, all your employees focused on improvement everyday results in productivity gains and quality improvement the likes of which, very few have seen. Don’t discount the hundred-dollar bills laying around in your company. Inspire the masses to go get them! There are thousands of them out there!
So, the next time you are asked, “Who is picking up the hundred-dollar bills?”, you should now have an answer!
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Author - Chad Metcalf
Chad is President and founder of Value Stream Solutions Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in teaching and implementing Lean Thinking into businesses of all types and sizes. Covering coast to coast and the USA, our mission is to strengthen manufacturing capabilities and communities.
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