I’m currently working with a large company on a continuous improvement project that started a few months ago with a detailed analysis on some of their critical assets. Within one weeks’ time we had a list of over 250 recommendations that needed to be implemented and performed in order to recognize an improved and sustained level of productivity that would provide a quick return on investment and lower the unit cost of their product.
Two months ago I was highly confident they would jump right on completing the recommended tasks.
Two months later I’m not so confident. They have become bogged down in the minutia of practices and procedures that haunt so many large companies. They have passed the torch of responsibility from one person to the next so many times that the person ended up holding it had no involvement in the original effort and little influence to implement real change.
My monthly phone call to the manager who sponsored the effort now results in my return to the site with the hopes we can pick up the pieces of this broken effort and put the group back on a track that lead them to the initial improvement goal.
I arrive with a 5 step plan to kick-start this improvement effort.
- Take Ownership – This might sound strange but we need to recognize the critical step that comes between talking about continuous improvement and actually recognizing that improvement. This step is called implementation. In order for your company to actually experience the improvement that comes from performing a RCM Analysis, Kaizen or Root Cause analysis someone needs to step up and take the ownership of implementing the teams recommendations. This should be made clear in the project charter or contract so everyone involved knows will be responsible for setting up the implementation plan.
- Sort for Simplicity – When one first looks at a list of 250 recommended tasks they can feel a bit overwhelmed. This is where organizational skills come into play, you will need to sort the tasks first by task type, followed by job class and then by priority. The first reaction most people have is to sort the tasks by priority because we want to do the most important things first. The truth is here we will but I want the Engineers to work on their high priority work, while the Maintenance, Operations, and Purchasing folks do the same. I can’t tell you how many times I call to check and see how a customer is doing and they are still trying to determine if the engineering priority 1 tasks are more important than the operations priority 1 tasks. My answer is always the same, they are of equal importance, assign them and get them done!
- Make it Personal – When I ask customers if I can get a copy of their implementation progress report 9 times out of 10 the first thing I notice is they have taken the maintenance tasks and assigned them to “Planner, Supervisor, Mechanic, Electrical, and/or Lubrication”. This is also an early sign of the implementation death spiral, assigning tasks to a discipline instead of an individual allows everyone in that discipline to say “I thought he/she was going to do it!” Every single recommendation that comes out of your improvement effort needs to be assigned to a specific individual and it should also include a date we expect the task to be completed by. Incredible as this might seem, recommendations that get assigned to a specific individual are 118 times more likely to be completed than tasks assigned something as vague as “engineer.” Add to this that when I can look at an implementation report and see that John Doe has completed 18 of his 22 assigned recommendations and Fred Doe has completed 2 of 28 I know that 2 individuals are in need of a visit. One for some positive reinforcement the other for some much needed motivation.
- Set Goals- The need to improve should only be outdone by the need to implement recommendations. Nothing kills a continuous improvement effort faster than doing absolutely nothing with the team recommendations. The people who worked on the team are well aware of what their recommendations were and the day after they complete their part of the project they begin waiting to see their ideas put to use. If a month goes by and they don’t see any changes being implemented they will stop coming forward with ideas on how to improve. For this reason, we need to set aggressive goals for implementation and celebrate the achievement of these goals.
- Reinforce Behaviors – Every company that begins a continuous improvement effort does so because they are looking to lower costs, improve productivity, increase reliability, reduce health, safety and environmental accidents or improve product quality. What many miss is one of the best benefits the opportunity to recognize and reinforce those who made the improvements possible. Continuous improvement can’t take place without the efforts of several individuals and this allows us as managers to reinforce those whose actions and behaviors are driving the change. Take the time to recognize and reinforce those who are putting forth that extra effort the make things better for everyone. Learn what people like and make that reinforcement as meaningful as the improvements that came from their efforts.
Continuous improvement isn’t difficult. All one has to do is set forth with one of several proven tools and a plan that empowers your people to make it happen. As usual I’m always interested in your comments and feedback and when that occurs we all learn!