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Continuous Improvement Needs an Integrated Organizational Culture

Apr 25, 2016 | Posted by Matt Elson

Understanding how each continuous improvement tool is related to get the most benefits from the total package.

Let’s get it out of the way right now: 5S is not the foundation of continuous improvement, nor is the Toyota Production System (TPS). Value stream mapping (VSM) is not the starting point, and kaizen is not a verb, noun, or event.

Many people mistake the individual tools of continuous improvement for the most important part of the program. This is reasonable, because experienced coaches seem to focus on the tools relentlessly. But in reality, they focus on forcing the learner into a new routine.

The tools are just the most visible part that we can see, and subsequently adopt. Personnel development actually is the central focus of continuous improvement.

Developing a Culture

There are important technical aspects to establishing and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement. The approach is similar regardless of the industry, plant, or facility, and the concepts are applicable equally in a custom job shop or a plant with dozens of machines.

As a practitioner of improvement, you must understand when and how to apply the tools in varying circumstances.

On one hand, if your improvement journey already is well underway, it’s a question of maintaining the discipline of doing the small things consistently, every day. The day-to-day routine of practicing continual improvement while solving everyday problems is what helps deepen understanding, experience, and skill.

On the other hand, if you are new to TPS concepts — sometimes known as lean — there is a recommended approach, with associated technical tools.

Stabilize and Standardize

The prime focus of this phase is being active and stabilizing processes to meet customer demands in terms of quality, delivery, and cost. Shop floor kaizen activities typically focus on these five areas:
1.Takt time planning and standardizing work, and using a cycle time versus takt time graph (a work balance chart).
2.Practical problem solving, which also is sometimes called the 5 Why Problem Solving system.
3.Continuous flow/one-piece flow.
4.Quality defect reduction by 80 to 90 per cent.
5.Improved delivery performance to 90-plus per cent.

The focus should be areas of the greatest business need, not low-hanging fruit. The idea is to make work easier for team members, while making improvements in operations, which in turn help the business. Most important during this time is that you practice your improvement skills.

Advanced Systems

At this point in your transformation journey, you have begun to connect model areas together into an integrated system. By focusing on process level first (rather than the big picture like in a traditional value stream map), you get improvements that help with organizational buy-in.

While everyone loves sticky-note-on-the-wall exercises, people are really looking for ways to make their daily lives better.

Connecting the various processes into your value chain means implementing two well-known systems:
1.Just-in-Time (JIT). Using a pull system to determine the quantity of production (replacing what the customer consumes), and using heijunka (smoothing by volume and variety) to determine the timing of production.
2.Jidoka (built-in quality). Building in quality at the source means having the ability to stop and notify when a problem (commonly known as an andon) occurs, and having a support structure in place to take action to solve the problem and recover.

Another aspect of jidoka is the separation of human and machine work, which creates higher team member engagement and utilization.

An important note on these systems is making sure you have the process nailed down manually before ever attempting to apply automation like software. If you can’t manage it with a simple piece of paper and pencil, adding the additional cost and effort of software will likely make things much worse.

Once these management systems are accepted in your organizational culture, you can apply technology to reduce the cycle time.

Shop Floor Management

All of the tools in a toolkit won’t make a difference if leadership doesn’t know how to use them. The tools are a great framework for leaders to practice the routines of operations management.

Rather than the focus being on creating charts and graphs that look good and add little value, it should be on simple (hand-drawn) visual controls that clearly indicate if a process is in control or if an abnormality exists (a deviation from the pre-specifications of the process).

A few simple metrics and shop floor management practices are recommended:
1.Operational Availability (OA). This is a measurement of whether the process is outputting what the customer wants. Simply divide the output by customer demand.
2.Scrap/Reject Rate. This is the percentage of rejected parts versus total parts produced.
3.Hour-to-Hour Board. This board shows the hourly output from the process versus the target (based on takt time) and what prevented hitting the target.

It’s important to realize that when implementing an operations management system, you build each step on the last. This means you can’t skip steps. A JIT setup will fail if you don’t first stabilize and standardize the process. You also can’t effectively manage the process without understanding output versus demand. These are integrated systems, and each piece relies on the others.

Don’t fall into the trap of picking and choosing which pieces to implement (toolkit approach); instead, look at your whole system from customer to suppliers.

Matt Elson is a student of continuous improvement, leadership and strategy. He works with the rest of the team at True North Thinking Inc., helping businesses and organizations reach their goals. Changing the world. One kaizen at a time.

You can join the conversation by following True North Thinking Inc. on LinkedIn here and by signing up for the newsletter, The Journey to True North, here.

This article originally appeared in Canadian Metal Working magazine, here.

Image courtesy: http://www.lynda.com

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