Executing a Continuous Improvement Plan

Beau Groover

Every plan for continuous improvement should follow a path based on performance metrics for quality, cost, delivery and safety. For each of these groups, you should have well-defined targets such as to improve by 10 percent, reduce by 12 percent, increase by 9 percent, etc. For each metric, you should have a corresponding objective.

Additionally, you should have communicated the plan and the reasons why you are going after certain items on the plan. It is now time to execute. Each of the items on your plan may need some additional analysis to see exactly what is involved in the improvement of those items.

Are you going to have a team leader by initiative? Are you going to employ value-stream management? Are there natural families for you to follow? Is your continuous improvement effort themed in one area (quality, cost, delivery, safety, morale and/or innovation)?

As you go through the next levels, you are moving from strategic questions to more tactical questions. At the high level, you may want to improve delivery performance by 11 percent. However, before you can attack delivery performance, you need to do some analysis of what goes into the delivery performance. This may include questions about volume, customer mix, new products, standard vs. special systems, days of the week, geography, etc.

My recommendation is that you employ lean and Six Sigma to these next steps so that you are able to effectively sort out which is which. Please be careful that you don’t just do what you have always done. In other words, if your organization is slanted toward Six Sigma, don’t make everything a define-measure-analyze-improve-control (DMAIC) project. On the other hand, if your organization is more of a lean organization, don’t call everything a kaizen either.

As you are laying out the next steps of your executable plan, you must first decide which approach to use. Not everything is a kaizen; not everything is a project. Selecting the right tool will ensure you the highest impact at the lowest cost in terms of time required.

For purposes of simple definitions, consider the following:

  • Kaizen — This is a very rapid approach to continuous improvement. The scope should be such that while you have a problem statement identified, you do not yet have the solutions. Be careful that you are not trying to “boil the ocean” in a week. You are willing to empower a team to execute the improvement process. There are specific and measureable goals and objectives for the problem statement. During a kaizen week, there should be a miniature plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle within the week. You also have a resource who is well-versed and capable of leading a kaizen for you.
  • Project — This is a more long-term approach that may allow for items to be scoped on a larger scale. These may include projects that are bigger than a kaizen. In some cases, projects may be made up of several kaizens. There are specific and measureable goals that you are after. You are willing and able to empower a team to pursue the effort. You have a resource available who is capable of managing a project and has enough continuous improvement experience to bring the expertise to the project.
  • Do-It — These are items in which you know what needs to be done, but the resources just haven’t yet been allocated to the effort. For example, in looking at the plan, replacing the spindle bearing on a piece of equipment shows up as a reason you can’t perform. Replacing the spindle becomes a “do-it.” Now, just “do it!”

At the end of each of these activities, don’t forget to update your posting(s) and communicate the activities to others. You also need to chart and track the results to make sure that your efforts are yielding the results you seek.

Remember, what you want is a culture of continuous improvement. Along the way, you will reap a great deal of benefits in terms of performance improvements and tactical performance. The end game is always the culture. Never lose sight of that fact.

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