Key Ingredients for the Success of a Continuous Improvement Team

The Must-Have Guide To Creating A Stellar Continuous Improvement Program

The idea of continual improvement is one that underlies nearly all modern manufacturing philosophy, especially those associated with Lean. Continuous improvement programs seek to make small but constant adjustments to your business that increase efficiency and reduce waste – the idea can be applied to machinery and physical manufacturing processes, teamwork and employee interactions, changeover times, material and component management, and more. Continuous improvement can be responsible for vast improvements in profitability over time, but it can be tricky to know where to start. Let’s take the “tricky” out of it right now.

Putting Together Your Continuous Improvement Team

As one user (Tom Brouillette) in a recent LinkedIn discussion of continual improvement weight in, “The most powerful collaboration tool is attitudinal and behavioural not technical and procedural, and already lies within your people.”

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One of the big mistakes that someone new to continuous improvement might make is to try and implement it themselves. There are a number of reasons to build a team to handle your improvement efforts rather than tasking yourself or an individual with it, and here are a few of the most important:

  • Two (or ten) sets of eyes are better than one. You’re simply going to be able to catch more areas that need improvements, and get better ideas on how to make the necessary tweaks, with more people on board.
  • Multiple perspectives means you might avoid taking an action with unforeseen consequences. For example, a manager might spot what he perceives to be a problem on the assembly line and start devising a policy to change it. If he had a team working with him, especially one comprised of floor workers, someone might have informed him that his solution was actually going to make things harder or slower if implemented, and there was a good reason for what he perceived as a “delay” or “problem” at first.
  • You can spread workload. Not only can you spot more areas for improvement and come up with a larger array of fixes when working in a team, but you can tackle more of them at once.

So, now that you know you should have a team, who should be on it? In my opinion, there are three primary groups of people that should be on any continual improvement team to ensure its success:

  1. Workers from every potentially affected department. For the reasons stated above, keeping someone who is knowledgeable of each process that you might seek to tweak or change can help offer a unique and valuable perspective.
  2. Management. You’ve got access to the numbers and your bottom line, so you want either yourself or someone with similar access in the mix here. Management representatives can also help serve as a liaison between the team itself and any higher ups who need “progress reports.”
  3. An outside expert. Whether or not you bring in an outside consultant to lead your Lean and continual improvement efforts is up to you, but I highly recommend it. Think of it like this: You know your business inside and out, right? If you make widgets, you know everything about widgets, why your widgets are best, what your competitors are doing, what your customers want, etc. In the exact same way, it is an outside consultant’s job to be an expert at helping businesses increase their efficiency. A consultant can help you identify your areas of most immediate need, put together a step by step plan for making changes, and offer tools to help you track your progress. The costs of hiring a consultant can usually be easily recouped.

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Speaking of tracking progress…

Mike Ruhland brought up a great point as well:

“Nothing keeps a continuous improvement program on track like tracking the time and resources consumed as a ratio of the bottom line impact. I would suggest that to be world class impact to cash flow, ROI and NP are a very good yardstick.”

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You’re only ever going to know how much your continuous improvement efforts are helping you if you get out the figurative tape measure and stare down the numbers. Keep detailed notes of any changes you make, along with the team’s reasoning behind making them – these should include initial production numbers, along with measurements of any other components that might correspond to the success of your efforts, like materials in per unit created, etc. Over time, you’ll be able to see what types of changes have been most beneficial to you, and you can focus more and more of your efforts on the same areas, or at least apply the same ideas/methods to other areas altogether.

But don’t bite off more than you can chew

Especially if you opt to handle your continual improvement program without the aid of an outside consultant, always start with baby steps. Rather than getting in trying to look for improvements to be made all over, focus on one particular area or process that is slowing you down. Analyze that one thing inside and out, and focus on making small changes to it. Feel out the continual improvement process in this manner before moving onto another area. If you have enough people on your team, you can assign half of the team to one area and the other half to another in order to cover more ground but still not have to be rushed.

Well, I think that just about does it. Following these few steps can take you leaps and bounds closer to an easy and smooth transition into continual improvement culture. If you find yourself struggling, take a step back and be sure to read up on some of the basics of Lean to make sure you understand the underlying principles supporting continuous improvement efforts in the first place. Also, don’t forget to visit Creative Safety Supply for all your continuous improvement tools, such as floor tape, lean dvd’s, label makers, and much more…

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Antonio Ferraro

On behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR, I strive to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. My knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. I believe in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier workplace. Connect with Antonio on Google+