Four Elements of a Successful Continuous Improvement Program

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Continuous Improvement, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Process Improvement | 0 comments

Problems, customer issues, productivity issues, and making decisions are an inherent part of daily life in every organization.  Many organizations do an outstanding job and are able to resolve issues and make decisions very efficiently and quickly.  However, there are still many organizations that struggle to resolve the simplest of issues.

Why is it that some organizations are so much better than others?  I believe there are four key elements that must be a part of every successful continuous improvement effort.

  1. A Defined Problem Solving Process.  There must be a defined process for everyone to follow that is well understood, and is followed every time.  DMAIC is such a process.  It stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.  It is the process most often used in Six Sigma.  In the Define Phase, the problem is stated, the team formed, and the current situation is understood.  Measure is all about collecting data, understanding your measurement system, and mapping the current process.  Analyze is determining the root cause of the problem.  In the Improve phase, solutions are developed, tested, piloted, and implemented.  Control is all about changing the current system so the problem doesn’t return.  A change in specifications, tolerances, methods, equipment, or documentation that is monitored periodically and prevents the issue from reoccurring.
  2. A Method to Understand and Reduce Process Variation.  Variation in processes causes defects and inconsistencies, which create customer dissatisfaction.  A simple method to understand process variation is to think about the 6Ms, which are Man, Machine, Method, Material, Measurement, and Mother Nature.  How people do things, how they perform their work tasks, differences in materials, how we measure, and the methods we use all contribute to the variation the customer sees in our products and services.
  3. A Method to Identify and Eliminate Process Wastes.  Waste is anything your customer is not willing to pay for.  It is all the inefficiencies that are inherent in your processes.  Employees must be able to identify and eliminate the different forms of waste.  The most common forms of waste are: waiting for material, information, etc., excess motion, too much inventory and work-in-process, transportation of products from one location to another, defects and errors, giving the customer more than they want by over-processing, and over-production which is producing more than what is required.
  4. A Learning Organization.  This speaks to the culture of the organization and where you want to be.  It is an organization that uses data and information to make decisions vs. one that makes decisions based on opinion or gut feel.  This is an organization that gives their employees a simple set of tools and techniques to understand processes and make their jobs easier, making small improvements everyday, allowing them to work smarter, not harder.

Incorporating these four elements into your continuous improvement process will make a huge difference in efficiency, productivity, customer satisfaction, and your bottom line.  Using these four concepts, keeping it simple, and expecting results is a sure formula for success.

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