Improving the Bottom Line - Continuous Improvement Programs

Can a continuous improvement program result in productivity improvements of 1% per month? If so, how?

Improvement tools such as Lean, BPI, 6Sigma, MOS, RACI are often used in CI programs. Why are some companies successful and others fail to achieve the results?

I have heard all too often that "we have invested time and money in training but little has been achieved or changed".

The answers are clear but the solutions can be elusive.  A company should be “operationally stable” prior to the implementation of a Continuous Improvement programme (also known as CI programme). Before we jump into “operationally stable” definitions, let’s look at continuous improvement. The aim of a continuous improvement culture is to embed this “process” into day to day practices.  When continuous improvement is part of your daily 'business as usual'; it’s owned by managers, supervisors and operators alike.

Below is a short how to guide on becoming operationally stable and ready for a continuous improvement programme that delivers results and is sustainable.  The process itself produces great $$ improvement results and often uses a mixture of the “improvement tools” mentioned above.

Many organisations have started a continuous improvement  program when they really should have stabilised their operating environment with management systems first!  That is, a system that can be measured, controlled and with a structure that supports clear communication of who is accountable and who is responsible for each step.

It is important to make each stage of your end to end process transparent and with controls measured, this allows key staff to maintain stability and progress daily. An important factor of installing this new operations control environment is the clear line between who is responsible for a task and who is accountable for tasks. The root cause of issues are identified at the (often daily) ten minute update meetings and managers are held accountable for corrective actions. A huge advantage of this stable environment is it allows a seemless integration of “hard” improvement tools such as Kanban, JIT, Kaizen, etc., with the “soft”, such as performance management systems, leadership development, and training in interpersonal skills.

In summary, operational stability and a continuous improvement culture will create a change to the day to day operations and result in lower costs and consistent quality.

  1. Management needs visibility on key daily indicators so that decisions can be made quickly and a clear communication protocol established.  
  2. With detailed work instructions and quantified input and outputs established by the operators discussions are clearly objective (not perceptive).
  3. The analysis and reporting around shorter time frames ensures that what is measured is acted upon and management focus on issues is targeted. 
  4. With smart control tools in place and used at the short daily meetings all issues become transparent and the “who” is responsible and “who” is accountable is clear and actioned.

The continuous improvement culture includes the adoption of a number of tools found in Lean, RACI, and TQM schools of thinking.

The management of the agreed standards (developed in the new operations control environment) in the business, results in greatly improved costs and increases daily disciplines of quality and safety. It in effect delegates responsibility down to operator tasks hence productivity focus is part of day to day routine.

Written by Richard Blow, Managing Director - Performance Drivers with input from Alex van Ravenswaaij and Brian Levitan