Problems with Sustaining

When companies adopt new strategies for innovation and improvement they often make a lot of progress quickly, but then fall into stagnation or even lose the advancements they made.  When, for example, a company takes on a Kaizen initiative they typically get the resources needed to complete the project successfully.  With all the effort focused on completing the initiative successfully it is possible to accomplish great things.  The problem, however, comes when it is time to sustain those results.

The problem with sustaining anything in the business or manufacturing world is that it would require a great many factors to also stay the same.  If those contributing resources to a particular task change than it will result in a change to the results in the task itself.  In addition, with innovation taking place all over the world at all times companies which are sustaining are actually falling further and further behind.

In order to combat stagnation or even falling back to the way things were before a particular Kaizen initiative it is important to plan in ongoing progress.  A good initiative won’t have a specific end date when all activity stops.  In every plan like this there should be a strategy for ongoing improvement opportunities.

While the bulk of the progress related to any project will be done during the Kaizen event itself, there should also be continuous opportunities for improvement.  This can come in the form of constantly expanding goals and monitoring the productivity of the project for regular improvements.  Unfortunately, if something is not improving in these types of situations they are actually getting worse.  There is truly no such thing as sustaining in this environment.

Some tips which many businesses use to encourage ongoing improvement after a Kaizen event include assigning an owner to the process, having expiring target dates and encouraging ongoing participation from everyone working on the team.  Assigning an owner to the process sets a point of contact for anyone who has an idea or concern they want to discuss.  It also gives direct responsibility for tracking and implementing the ongoing improvement initiative.

While many processes have target goals which they strive to reach, they often don’t have anything set up for after the goal is accomplished.  Having specific goals which are constantly changing and being updated based on realistic expectations can help encourage everyone to keep looking for improvement opportunities and ways to continue to streamline the process.

Finally, encouraging everyone on the team to participate in the ongoing improvement stage of any project is essential.  Unlike a major Kaizen event, this ongoing improvement stage will be focused on finding a regular stream of small improvement opportunities.  When everyone on the team is contributing it is much easier to find little areas of opportunity.  As one small task is improved it can lead to others finding ways to increase productivity as well.  This continuous attitude of improvement will not only help improve efficiency and productivity, but also increase engagement from the employees.


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