Practicing Constant Continuous Improvement
I don’t think it takes much hard thought to understand that our customers expect from us products and services which meet their requirements for performance and delivery. Our reputation as a preferred supplier to our customers is contingent on excellence in these measures. They expect that we will provide to them what they want, when they want it, at great value, and on a consistent basis. Fully understanding this premise is the key to success for any company who wants to claim to be a Lean Enterprise.
But, the real philosophy which must permeate throughout the entire organization from the support technician all the way down to the president is that quality in processing our customers’ orders is not something which is “added” to the process, nor is it optional. To be totally effective, quality must be designed into our products, processes and services and it must be practiced by each and every one of us on a constant basis.
Adjectives used to describe the well designed and managed quality management system are: management-owned, well-planned, documented, controlled, monitored, continuously improved, free of waste, consistent and/or repeatable, and defect free both in design, in process and at delivery to the customer location. When total quality is considered to be first among all other things, the rest will come at lower and lower costs to the organization.
So, how can I embody this philosophy? I like to think of my job as an extension of everything I do. After all, I spend more waking hours working than I do in my own home. And, I have come to believe that I have the same rights at my job as I do in my own home. Of course I haven’t always thought this way. But, one day I realized that I had to take charge of my work environment much as I have charge of my home environment. What is the difference? The answer finally came to me. At home I am the “process owner”. I have decision making authority and responsibility for all that happens there. The outcome is up to me. I practice constant continuous improvement there and I enjoy the excellence that that brings to me. In a very real sense, in my own home, I am my own customer. This brings me pleasure and makes me happy there. It has increased the quality of my life. So, why was I not practicing these same standards and expectations in my workplace? I realized that I could become my own customer there too, and it would increase my satisfaction (quality of life) on the job. And, if I could do this for me I could do it for my fellow workers as well. To accomplish this I had to ensure I was doing everything I could to do things right the first time and that I was practicing “constant continuous improvement”. Once I consciously started doing that, even in the smallest of things, I started becoming more and more satisfied with who I was, where I worked, and with my fellow workers. I also found that I stopped worrying about all the other things that I thought others were saying and doing around me and took pride in the things I was accomplishing. I believe we all have a responsibility to ourselves to bring about our own happiness and to stop waiting on others to do that for us. Gaining happiness is a lifelong journey and there are many paths one can take. I believe practicing excellence through constant continuous improvement is one of those paths for happiness at work, and at home. I encourage all of you to think about this idea and to take action on it.
Language of Lean
Most organizations have either heard of or deployed the concepts known collectively as “Lean” and the word has embedded itself into a common place in management language over the last few years. The concept was well known and used in the manufacturing sector initially and there has been a relatively seamless transition into other commercial areas such as banking and now the Public Sector. Like most successful concepts the basic ideas are simple and easy to understand, the difficulty comes in the deployment and implementation. However some enthusiasts do not help by insisting on using Japanese terms to describe the various techniques and then adding their own flavor to what is essentially a highly pragmatic and readily understandable concept. Others seek to increase this confusion with an array of numbers; the 7 wastes, 6 sigma, 5S, the 4 lean laws and for some the use of an A3.
Let’s examine the key principles. There is a fundamental hypothesis about the current situation in any organisation that underpins the use of Lean and that is explained in 5 principles:
- Most processes are not lean;
- One primary objective of Lean is to reduce “Work in Progress”;
- Every process should operate on Pull principles not Push;
- 20% of all activities cause 80% of the delays or problems;
- Invisible work cannot be improved.
To illustrate the first two points consider any process in which the customer is applying for something. It could be a mortgage, a social benefit, a new credit card or even planning permission. Let’s assume the process takes 30 days from start to finish. How much time do you think the organization actually spends working on the application? We have studies that show it to be as little as 5 days; why then does it take 30 days from the customers’ perspective? Take a look at how much “Work in Progress” you have at any given time and it starts to become clear that these processes are not lean. By the way, don’t get carried away with the thought that your processes are electronic and therefore must be lean. How many messages do you have in your e-mail Inbox? Electronic piles of paper are just as bad as physical ones.
To correct and improve any situation Lean redesigns what is happening by:
- Recognizing and valuing the needs of the Customer;
- Simplifying the process;
- Embracing Problems;
- Organizing the process (Flow & Pull).
By focusing on the needs of the Customer and organizing your activities in a way that actually delivers Customer requirements, Lean techniques enable costs to fall at the same time as improving customer satisfaction and service delivery.
DonSwiftAndAssociates.com is experienced in helping organizations become lean. We strip away the jargon and help apply the principles. Talking is free, why not contact us; we guarantee there will be no need for a translator.