The following is an excerpt from a chapter: “Metrics that Move the Business” that Dave has written for an ebook, compiled by the Manufacturers Alliance, being released later this year.

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Dave Deal, is an operations general manager who leads business transformations. He has leveraged his engineering background in the automotive, rubber and plastics, and image processing industries. His experience ranges from customized to continuous flow and from manual assembly to digital production environments while achieving outcomes that support the business strategy and generating productivity gains. He is an expert at applying Lean methodology to create a culture where everyone succeeds.  Known as a mentor and teacher, he fosters a collaborative learning environment.

 __________

Continuous improvement is often described as a journey.  This is a fair representation as we often do not know exactly where we are going or how exactly we will get there.  It has an end goal to establish that, due to various business circumstances that may change but it is still rooted in the company’s long-term strategy for success.  The path taken will have obstacles to overcome and will therefore, not be a straight line from start to finish.

I believe that each person comes to work each day to do a good job.  If everyone on our team knows what is important and why it is important they will make an effort to make good decisions during the course of their work day.  I also believe everyone wants their work to be important.  If it was not important, then they should not be there doing it.  A good continuous improvement effort involves the people doing the work. If we harness the power and capacity of each employee, our improvement effort will become unstoppable.

The process of successful continuous improvement can be broken into three distinct components.

  • “Learning to See” where true understanding of what creates value within the business and what does not.
  • “Learning to Solve” where various problem solving tools are applied to physically drive a change in a process to achieve a different outcome.
  • “Making and Sustaining Change” where the changes made are firmly embedded into an accepted new way of performing the work – so when issues arise, which they always do, the process does not revert back to “how we have always done it.”

 

The Journey

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Each year many of us are given improvement goals.  These goals are tied to the annual operating plan that is in support of the long-term business strategy.  Reaching these goals can often be a journey with an undefined path.  Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?  It is an incredible site and an immense hole in the ground with a river at the bottom.  When you stand on the rim and look down, you get a sense for just how big it really is.  When you are assigned your improvement goals for the year, do you ever get the feeling you are standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking down at the river – wondering just how you are going to get there.  While it may be an overwhelming feeling standing on the edge looking down, with proper understanding of how to navigate an unknown path will result in a safe journey to the river and back, and your goals being met.

Learning to See

My son and I enjoy backpacking.  We often do this for a week in the back country of a National Park.  Hiking in the back country requires preparation for the journey.  Preparation includes an understanding of where we are going, how we are going to navigate the path, and what tools we need to bring to solve problems along the way.

Look at the image below.  This is a trail along the Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon.  Can you see the markers?  While the trail is littered with obstacles, it is considered a well-marked trail.

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Now look at the image below.  It is a close up of the same photo with two small rock piles circled.  These rock piles are called cairns and the back country trails are all marked by these.  They are a perfect marking system on a trail like this.  They are natural parts of the path but yet are not stacked naturally.  Unless you know what you are looking for, you likely would not see them unless they are so big and so obvious that you couldn’t miss them.  When you know what to look for, they stick out as obvious markers.

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The same is true for identifying improvement opportunities.  When you are looking at a process day in and day out, opportunity for improvement is not always easy to see – unless you know exactly what to look for.  When you do know what to look, for the opportunities will become obvious.  This involves knowing and understanding the 8 Forms of Waste, understanding Value Stream Mapping, the fundamentals of One Piece Flow and the power of Visual Management.  All of these principles are about Learning to See.

Read on about the next 2 components.

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